Azure Ray: Burn and Shiver

Jeremy Schneyer

Azure Ray

Burn and Shiver

Label: Warm
US Release Date: 2002-04-09

The girls of Azure Ray, Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor, are pretty busy these days. In addition to putting out their own records, they've spent the past few years as touring members of Bright Eyes, and contributing vocals to lots of various and sundry records, not the least of which being Moby's latest, 18.

Listening to the fragile, electronic tinged acoustic music that the two purvey on Burn and Shiver, their second full-length release, it's almost impossible to believe that at one point, the vehicle for their songs was a four-piece rock band. Yet it's true: Fink and Taylor introduced themselves to the world back in 1997 with Who Did You Pay, their band Little Red Rocket's debut. Plying a brand of alterna-rock that was quite familiar to anyone who's ever heard Belly or the Throwing Muses, LRR were good, but not great. The band eventually got signed to Geffen, but was subsequently dropped before they had even begun recording on their sophomore release.

In the meantime, Fink and Taylor banded together with some other like-minded musicians and brought out an entirely new band, Azure Ray, whose self-titled debut proceeded to garner much more attention and positive press than Little Red Rocket ever did. And with good reason: Azure Ray presented the pair's voices in as unadulterated a fashion as possible, all breathy and sighing and dreamy. Eric Bachmann's (Crooked Fingers, ex-Archers of Loaf) intimate production touches and subtle use of electronic beds made the record just that much more appealing.

Bachmann returns to produce Burn and Shiver, which adds to the seamless transition between the two records. Not a lot has changed this time around -- Taylor and Fink still croon and sigh as demurely as ever, and the instrumental backing is as subtle and insinuating as ever. Songs like "How You Remember", with its subtle horns and vaguely Morricone-ish guitars, and "The New Year", with its electronics pushed up a little further in the mix than they have been before, are examples of hoe Azure Ray continue to grow while still retaining pretty much all of the attributes that caused them to become popular in the first place.

Although Burn and Shiver is probably a more consistent record than its predecessor, it should also be noted that there isn't really anything here that leaps out and tickles the ears the way "Displaced" or "Sleep" from their debut did. Although "How You Remember" and the closer "Rest Your Eyes" come close, they're the only tracks here that really stand out from the pack. This can mostly be attributed the relentlessly slow, extremely melancholy nature of the songs on Burn and Shiver. "How You Remember" bumps up the tempo just a hair, and varies the instrumentation just enough to make it stand out, and the guitar figure in "Rest Your Eyes" is likewise just jaunty enough to distinguish it from its neighbors.

In fact, my main complaint with Burn and Shiver is that it's just so unvaryingly pretty, and mines the same mood throughout its entire duration, that I find myself nodding off towards the middle of the record. The pair seem to have mastered their formula: two beautiful, intertwining voices, a plucked acoustic guitar, and some miscellaneous background instrumentation (subtly clicking electronic beats, muted horns, ambient washes of keyboard) = an Azure Ray song. While the results are predictably agreeable, this time around, the songs start to come across as somewhat formulaic.

While on the whole, Burn and Shiver is another successful foray into the sleepy, gothic, mournful world of Azure Ray, I'd really like to see Fink and Taylor shake up the formula a bit next time around, as at this point, it seems like they could write these songs in their sleep. While there's nothing wrong with an artist playing to his or her strengths, after awhile, one starts to get the sense that they aren't challenging themselves quite enough. While not everyone needs to go the route of Neil Young and refuse to stay put for two albums in a row, its nonetheless nice to see a musician that puts it on the line. While some of these experiments are inevitably doomed to failure, its really the only way to guard against complacency. At this point, I'm not accusing Azure Ray of becoming complacent. However, I am putting the word out that they are in danger of slipping into a rut. A very pretty, likeable rut, but a rut nonetheless.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.