Azure Ray - As Above So Below [EP]
Cast your mind back to 2003: indietronica, in all its niche and subcultural glory, was going from strength to strength, The Postal Service and Frou Frou had both just released albums that would go on to be considered landmarks of mid-00s electronic indie, and it seemed that Ben Gibbard and Conor Oberst could do no wrong. Around this time, Azure Ray – consisting of frequent Bright Eyes collaborators Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor – were snapped up by Oberst's Saddle Creek imprint on the back of two full-lengths skewing the boundaries between dream pop and blustery electronica, and a couple of memorable TV soundtrack appearances. The duo would release a solitary LP for the label – 2003's Hold on Love – before disbanding to pursue ventures new in 2004.
But, five years later, fate – and a one-off reunion show with members of Tilly and the Wall in LA – brought the pair back together. As Above So Below marks their second release since reforming and it showcases a duo with a great debt to indie music at the turn of the century, and who it seems are still very much fixed in that Omaha, NE mindset.
Opener 'Scattered Like Leaves' with its canned strings, pulsating synths and hushed vocals feels like a master class in indietronica-by-numbers; whether or not this is a good thing will depend entirely on whether you hold a predilection for the genre. The issue is that a lot has changed since 2003, for better or worse, but Azure Ray feel stuck back then, unable to add anything new to their sound to truly validate this as a worthwhile entry in their distinguished canon.
It's a problem that plights much of As Above So Below. While it makes a pleasant enough noise on a superficial level, it never really does anything to challenge or excite the senses. Through the slow-burning melancholia of 'Unannounced' and the poetic, piano-led 'The Heart Has Its Reasons', Fink and Taylor amble along through calming soundscapes that neither offend nor truly satisfy. It all makes for a suite of songs that feels too featureless to warrant any degree of listening beyond soothing, background music.
At only six tracks long and just 21 minutes in length, you'd be hard-pressed not to hope for something more attention-grabbing from a record like As Above So Below, particularly when it comes from a duo as decorated as Taylor and Fink. Sadly, in this instance, that just isn't the case. As the sustained faux-strings of closer 'We Could Wake' gradually descend from the ether and into a silence that announces the EP's end, it's hard to recall a single truly outstanding moment: A sad turn of events, indeed.