wears the trousers magazine

orenda fink: ask the night (2009)
October 5, 2009, 11:05 am
Filed under: album, mp3, review | Tags: , , , , , ,


Orenda Fink
Ask The Night ••••
Saddle Creek

Perhaps still best known as one half of American dream-pop duo Azure Ray alongside fellow singer-songwriter Maria Taylor, Alabama’s Orenda Fink has enjoyed a somewhat strange and complicated career path, recording under a number of guises. As well as Azure Ray, she formed a six-piece indie rock band, Art In Manila, in 2006, before collaborating with longtime friend Cedric LeMoyne of Remy Zero as O+S, who released their eponymous debut earlier this year. Ask The Night, meanwhile, is not released under the Azure Ray moniker, or Art in Manila, and not even O+ S. Instead, it arrives under her own name as the second Orenda Fink solo album. The follow-up to 2005’s Invisible Ones, an album shaped by Fink’s extensive travels in India, Cambodia and Haiti, Ask The Night continues in a gentler, more reflective vein. Stripped-down and folk-inspired, it incorporates a variety of influences into a pretty but reasonably dark Southern Gothic acoustic template.

Opener ‘Why Is The Night Sad’ is appropriately nocturnal sounding, like a quiet little missive recorded in the dead of witching hour. Built upon a simple but insistent guitar riff, it sets down the foundations for many of the subsequent tunes with an evocative and wistful air, and often vivid lyrics delivered in a lovely, soft voice, sometimes bolstered by haunting double-tracked harmonies. Perhaps most striking is the quietly dramatic, picaresque ‘High Ground’, a lightly strummed slice of bluegrass that benefits hugely from a twangy, stalking backing vocal from Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock. Less foreboding examples of Fink’s way with an Appalachian sound surface on the folksy ‘Sister’, a catchy ditty that ends on an imaginative note with layered a cappella vocals, and the banjo-dominated ‘Half-Light’.

Meanwhile, the Southern Gothic style pervades such comparatively dark songs as ‘That Certain-Something Spring’ and ‘Wind’, with their fast-paced guitar lines and, in the case of ‘Wind’, Fink’s incisive lyrics as she sings, “you have gypsy blood running through you too”. Fink contrasts this crepuscular material with gentler, well-mannered pieces like ‘The Garden’, whose pretty melody lies on top of attractive acoustic guitar and words that reassure us that “love and peace will fill your heart” and that “what you sow in your garden keeps growing on earth and in heaven for eternity”. These might sound trite as standalone sentiments, but when married to strong melodies and tender vocals they have a far greater effect. Expanding her range yet again with a subtle gospel infusion, the rootsy ‘Alabama’ is Fink’s sweetly loping and memorable ode to “sweet Alabama, my home”, before the album winds down with a late-album highlight in the wonderfully spooky ‘The Mural’, accented by eerie musical saw, and ‘The Moon Knows’, Ask The Night‘s brief, contemplative conclusion.

Fink has more than earned a reputation as something of a prolific workhorse but on the evidence of Ask The Night, there’s nothing to suggest at all that she is spreading herself thin. Laced with attractive melodies and stripped-down arrangements, the album achieves a greater cohesion than her last solo outing. A more than worthy follow-up, it highlights yet another new side to her already multifaceted artistry.

Matt Barton
UK release date: 05/10/09; www.myspace.com/orendafink

FREE MP3: Orenda Fink, ‘High Ground’ [via PopMatters]


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