Dream-pop duo Azure Ray releases its first recording in six years.
Azure Ray's Don't Leave My Mind EP breaks a six-year wait for new material. After the critically-acclaimed Hold On Love and the even better November EP that preceded it, Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor decided to take a break from their group in 2004. In 2009, they decided to record some new material and this is the first taster, an EP comprising three songs.
Fink and Taylor have always excelled at creating a form of dream-like balladry that is as hypnotic as it is personal, marrying elements of electronics or digital sounds with their resonant, tender voices. On the November EP, they produced a delightful cover of Townes Van Zandt's "For the Sake of a Song", taking its plaintive folk message but bathing it in a new world of sound, keeping it organic but taking out its roots. The original melody was almost completely lost, yet the sense of yearning and closeness remained. It was some feat indeed.
After their hiatus, they are still able to produce this otherwordly charm, though perhaps there is more focus on melody. "Don't Leave My Mind" starts with electronic beats that readily bring to mind the Postal Service before the vocals come in. Here, there is little difference with their older material: The vocals are always up close and personal, offering the main melody and staying center-stage, in this story of a lover leaving for New York. As a single, it's perfectly charming, though perhaps too short and sweet to offer any lasting charm. The vocals are always sincere yet distanced, and so require an interesting environ in which to flourish. But this never happens here, despite the tune being pleasant enough.
Of more interest, especially in regards to the forthcoming album Drawing Down the Moon, are the other two tracks. "Nightfall" is one the most folk-derived songs they've ever done, sounding closer to Thea Gilmore or Beth Orton than ever before. With its midway piano crash, it's certainly an intriguing guide to what could be. "What's Up, Sleepyhead" manages to have even more of a folk element, recorded roughly with guitar, two vocals, and a simple lolling melody. At 1:39, it's the height of brevity and could easily have been stretched out. Its premise as a lullaby, asking its subject to finally "wake up", is certainly more arresting than the other songs on the EP, though perhaps, as with a full body waxing, is enjoyed more with haste.
The delicate balance of emotion and austerity, of the electronic and sensual, that they managed to perfect on previous releases is always going to be delicately balanced, with the equilibrium shaking a little here. Hopefully this will be redressed by the time the album comes. At the least, this does show that the components are there for potentially another breathtaking release from the duo.