Albums, Music, The Revue — October 31, 2018 at 5:10 am

Azure Ray – ‘Waves’ (EP review)

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Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have been partners in crime for over two decades. As young teenagers, they launched the band Little Red Rocket, which blossomed into Azure Ray. For nearly a decade, the two would become the standard to which all dream-pop would be compared. Following the release of the lovely As Above So Below EP in 2012, though, they decided to put Azure Ray on hold for a second time (the first came in 2004). Taylor launched her boutique label, Flower Moon Records, on which she released her eighth and ninth solo LPs. Fink, similarly, focused on her burgeoning solo career and other projects, such as O+S. The chemistry and history of the two, however, remained strong, and Taylor and Fink reassembled recently to release Waves.

The duo’s eighth EP – and twelve record overall – is more of a teaser for long-time fans, but it serves as a warm taster for those being introduced to Azure Ray. Of the five tracks on the record, two are new, original songs. The remaining three include a cover, a remake of one of their classics, and finally a simple reprise. Nevertheless, Waves is a reminder of Taylor and Fink’s dreamy magic.

The records commences with the gorgeously lush “Palindrome”. As strings, keys, and a calm electronic beat fill the air, Taylor and Fink’s angelic harmonies ascend above the orchestration. They sound like Mary Chapin Carpenter and Agnetha Fältskog reborn, as their voices soothe every tension and create the feeling of nirvana. Their lyrics, too, are enchanting, reflecting on what was and what is to come. The two go slightly more widescreen and a shade darker on the sublime “Last Summer In Omaha”. A quiet urgency rings through the weeping strings and the pulsating rhythms, and the approach matches the introspective lyrics. Vulnerably they sing about past failures and unreachable dreams.

“Smoke and gin it’s all pretend
That I don’t know there’s something killing me.
As my friends start their families,
I should be happy, but I’m grieving.”

A rapturous cover of R.E.M.’s classic, “Nightswimming”, follows. Whereas Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry’s original was tranquil, Taylor and Fink raise the urgency and the pace. In the process, they turn this solemn number into a trippy but still intimate experience. The duo then reach back into their discography to release a new version of their classic “Hold On Love”, which still retains its Mazzy Starr-on-gentle-sea-voyage vibe. The harmonies are exquisite, but the additions of the harmonica and guitar keep the heavenly track grounded.

To conclude the EP, Taylor and Fink offer a 58-second, stripped-back reprise of “Palindrome”. Its addition demonstrates how the long-time friends can still dazzle and amaze with just a piano providing the musical support. And even at just four full songs, Taylor and Fink show why they once were the gold standard in dream-pop. For that matter, they still are that with Waves, which hopefully is just the first act of their third go-around as Azure Ray.

Waves is out now on Flower Moon Records, and it is available on the usual streaming and purchasing sites.

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