October 27, 2014

On Blue Dream, Orenda Fink Copes with Loss Through Song

Wednesday, Oct. 29 @ Caledonia Lounge

Photo Credit: Bill Sitzmann

Orenda Fink’s latest solo album, Blue Dream, begins with the raw pain of loss then moves on to explore the response of the bereaved. The record's prevailing theme is best expressed by the plaintive opening lines of the song "Poor Little Bear," which begins with an unadorned cry of grief: “Ooh, my little bear/ You can’t be lost/ It isn’t fair.” Fink finishes the verse, her ghostly vocal melody floating over a single guitar line: “So I’ll search/ For a sign/ Of your return.”

The album takes its inspiration from a real-life heartbreak. When Fink's dog of 16 years died, she was unprepared for the impact it would have on her. Adding to the pain were feelings of uncertainty about the nature of death, Fink says. “I just didn’t know, and I wanted to get closer to knowing.”

As Fink explains, “I essentially had what you might call an existential crisis. It kind of shook up my thinly put-together framework of what death is, and what happens when you die, and what will happen when I die, and my parents, and my husband, and that set off a tailspin.”

I just didn’t know, and I wanted to get closer to knowing. 

Fink, a Birmingham, AL native who lived in Athens for eight years from the late ‘90s through the early ‘00s (it was in Athens, she mentions, that she got her dog), is best known for her work as one-half of the indie-pop duo Azure Ray. She remained active through the group’s seven-year hiatus from 2003–2010, both as a solo artist and as a collaborator; Blue Dream is her third solo record.

In the wake of her pet's death, Fink says, “I started having these dreams about my dog, about death, about life, and that continued on for the better part of a year.” These dreams became the starting point for her search for meaning and, ultimately, the basis for the album, as well. 

"Musically, I wanted the record to sound like a dream," she says, "because it is the dreams, I feel, that really turned everything around, that kind of conceptualized the whole process for me in a way I wasn’t able to do until I started having the dreams."

Opener “Ace of Cups” begins with the soft scraping of a drumstick across a cymbal, an eerie sound bathed in reverb that announces the mystery to come. The synth-driven track that follows makes good on the promise. “You Can Be Loved” features a rubberband-like guitar that recalls the liminal, long-car-ride feel of early Modest Mouse records. Elsewhere, one finds the dense, melancholy ambience of Mutations-era Beck.

The dream influence shows up in the lyrics, too. On “Holy Holy,” Fink sings, “I lay in bed, collect all my dreams/ Then I pay someone to read them to me/ The simple ones are just as they seem/ But open your eyes, and they say so much more.” 

The last line of the same song alters a refrain that appears throughout the track, when Fink sings, “We come into this world all alone/ And we leave with not much more.”

Fink speaks of coming out of the grieving process and wanting to be better equipped for future losses. 

“It’s almost like it set me up for the next chapter of my life,” she says. “This will be the beginning of the second half of my life, which will be probably a lot more full of loss, and I need to figure out how to deal with that, because I’m not dealing with this loss very well.”

Blue Dream’s most beautiful moments reflect not only an acknowledgement of that reality, but also a fledgling attempt to come to terms with it. In an oblique but still meaningful sense, the record almost manages to recover the lost thing, while at the same time recognizing that uncertainty endures. 

“Ooh my little bear,” Fink sings, “You disappeared into the air/ So I’ll breathe a little deeper/ Are you there?”

WHO: Orenda Fink, Thayer Sarrano, Flight Mode
WHERE: Caledonia Lounge
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 29, 9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $8 (21+), $10 (18–20)