When Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink, otherwise known as Azure Ray, reunited in 2009 and set to work making their fourth album, Drawing Down the Moon, they used their very first album as a blueprint. “That approach facilitated Orenda (Fink) and I bringing our sound together stylistically and emotionally after working so many years apart,” explained vocalist Maria Taylor. Describing their approach for As Above So Below, Taylor stated, “We wanted it to be more like Azure Ray in an alternate universe. Sonically As Above is a sparser, more minimal and more electronic experience than past albums.” To achieve their new sound they collaborated with Fink’s husband Todd of the electronic band The Faint.
Although it’s only six songs, As Above So Below feels like a complete album. A mesmerizing, trippy album that leaves you wanting more, but a complete work nevertheless. It begins with “Scattered Like Leaves,” a track that calls to mind the so-called “Bristol Sound” made famous by Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead. To that end, the exquisitely-produced “Scattered Like Leaves” sounds very much like a Massive Attack track when it opens with reverb-heavy percussion and throbbing bursts of bass, which are highlighted by numerous spectral sounds off in the distance. “If you could guess how the world will end, with pockets of dreams, be emptied into the wind, and scattered like leaves,” it begins, the vocals still in the dream pop vein of the duo’s earlier work. As the song comes to its haunting conclusion, they sing, “There’s love everywhere, there’s sadness everywhere, so I keep movin’.” And it’s as though no artist has ever sounded so beautiful yet so melancholic at the same time before. This is a mold-breaking, truly inspired work of art that takes over your system like a highly potent opiate.
“Your eyes, like mine, took me by surprise, like summer rain,” begins “Red Balloon,” with menacing beats and chopped up vocal samples. But there’s a light piercing the darkness in the form of its syrupy chorus: “I’ll give all the love, I’ve been saving up, I’ll hold the red balloon, as I fall deeper with you.”
The four songs that follow are all equally quotable, mixing gorgeous, poetic vocals with chilling, heart-breaking music. They sound as though they’ve become overcome by emotion during “The Heart Has Its Reasons,” where sparse piano inspires goosebumps as they sing, “I loved you more, I know that now, you can’t change nature’s wishes, and she wishes.” It’s more than enough to make a chill run down your spine. You feel like you’re witnessing something otherworldly, something you’re not meant to experience, the scene of a horrible crime, and you can’t look away, not even for a second. It couldn’t be more hypnotic.
“And through that open window, you see the shadows pierce the light, are they coming for our lives?” they wonder during the bleak final song, “We Could Wake.” “Are you going to let me die?” they ask a soldier as it continues with fluttering, broken sounds painting a horrible picture in the background. “Now just brace for the fall,” it ends. And your jaw will hit the floor. Hard. And when you’ve recovered you’ll want to experience this work of art all over again. And again. And again.