If every band that went into the studio planning to make their last album came out with a gem as brilliant as AZAR, then I wish all bands would adopt a similar mindset. With only one full-length under their belts, but with a questionable future, the Athens, GA band went into the studio to record their final chapter. But engineer Scott Solter (Mountain Goats, John Vanderslice, Pattern Is Movement) encouraged the band to press on and challenged them to expand their already diverse musical pallette.
The result is the wonderfully dazzling AZAR. With an austere, slow-core rock foundation, not unlike Low, Venice Is Sinking create a slow-motion, atmospheric dream-pop sound with gorgeously layered and dreamy textures, reminiscent of The Album Leaf, and delicate swells of lush, orchestrated melodies, while avoiding any particular hyphenated rock formulas and defying most rock critic’s classifications.
AZAR makes a good case as an early favorite for many year-end top ten lists as it opens with four perfectly constructed and refreshingly rich tracks. Employing a winning combination of whispering indie-rock, floating keyboard drones, orchestral horn arrangements and sweetly melancholic viola, “AZAR One”, “Ryan’s Song”, “Okay” and AZAR Two” blossom with shimmering tones but stay grounded with rich melodies as they evolve into hauntingly beautiful, atmospheric rock songs with resonating rhythms and lilting choruses.
The rest of the album is equally compelling as Venice Is Sinking use their collective, daring eclecticism, along with the serenading male/female vocals of singers Daniel Lawson and Karolyn Troupe, to produce a hypnotic wash of sound with swirling arrangements. From the ambient drones and spacey synths of “AZAR Three” to the diverse tempo changes and prog-like feel of “Sun Belt”, the radiant sonics on “Iron Range” and the contemplative stylings of “AZAR Four” and “Charm City”, the songs unfold with an understated elegance as smooth pop hooks emerge from the colorful, melancholic backgrounds. The exceptions being the subdued and more standard slow-core sounds of “Wetlands Dancehall” and “Young Master Sunshine”.
Cinematic in it’s scope and scrupulous in it’s detail, AZAR is a sadly beautiful yet uplifting album that is likable the first time you hear it. But it’s not until after a few more spins that the depth and richness of the songs are revealed. It exudes a dreamy ambience that at times is both soothing and shimmering, but can also be as disquieting as it is peaceful and must be heard to be appreciated.
Recommended If You Like (RIYL): The Album Leaf, Low, and This Mortal Coil
Recommended Tracks: “Okay”, “Iron Range” and “Ryan’s Song”