Over the course of several releases, work by the group Azure Ray largely felt much too safe and soft for me. That group called it quits awhile back, and both members have gone on their own, releasing solo albums that to my ears were better than the group they played in together. Art In Manila finds Orenda Fink teaming up with a slew of area (Omaha, Nebraska) musicians and creating another solid, if not entirely surprising release that nonetheless finds her making strides from her first solo release.
A good portion of Saddle Creek releases (other than The Faint, and a couple louder groups like Ladyfinger NE and Criteria) have a loose sort of vibe that's hard to mistake. Perhaps it's from having such an incestuous base of musicians (with musicians from other bands showing up on each others releases), possibly it's because production always takes place in one of only a couple places, or maybe it's the mastering done at largely the same facility. Heck, it might even be sort of a regional thing, but there's no mistaking Set The Woods On Fire as a Saddle Creek release once you've heard it.
Musically, the album kicks off with one of the best songs on the album on "Time Gets Us All." A slow-builder that rises up from repeated piano and guitar phrases, it turns on its head about halfway through and soars into a beautiful power-ballad with multi-part vocals and dense instrumentation. "Our Addictions" might be the poppiest song on the record, with electric piano and gritty guitars dancing with one another while a vibrant bassline dances all over and sing-along choruses burst forth. The album-titled "Set The Woods On Fire" comes in somewhere between the two, with some of the layered melodic work on the release as jaunty moments are offset by more rocking ones.
The second half of the album is hit or miss, with some excellent songs (the bristling "Spirit, Run") and a couple that simply can't sustain themselves for their running length (the bland "Precious Pearl," which clocks in at almost six minutes). All said, Set The Woods On Fire is a steady release that doesn't really contain a lot of huge payoffs, but it doesn't really have any real stinkers either. It's steady and consistent, and hopefully is the first step in a more adventurous output from Art In Manila.