CD Review

Audra - "In a Dark Room..."

by Marcus Pan

In a Dark RoomLet the candles burn, the lights go off and shut out any outside noise or influences you can close the door on. Make the room in which you sit devoid of light save the flame of the candles. Then put on Audra. As the name of Audra's first CD release suggests, the atmosphere in which it sounds best is just as described. "In a Dark Room..." is very minimal and soothing. It's the type of CD you'd want to listen to after a bad day at work when you want to pull deep inside yourself and float around a bit while being alone. The lyrics are depressing yet comforting; it's the sound of death. But a sweet death. In the proper atmosphere it can be almost trance inducing.

Brothers Bart and Bret Helm make up the core of Audra and began their musical induction nearly a decade ago in Chicago. They are now based in Mesa, Arizona and have recently opened for Black Tape For a Blue Girl of the well known Projekt label. They've also appeared with such bands as Sunshine Blind, Test Dept., Rhea's Obsession and Switchblade Symphony. Why, then, aren't Audra signed to a label? I know not…and it's a terrible shame.

The lyrics the brothers create (three of the four songs on "In a Dark Room..." coming from Bret) plays almost like a poetry reading rather than a musical score. The picking guitars and bass accent the soothing flow of the keyboard (played by Ross Ingle), but the key to all of their musical endeavors seems to be the lyrics themselves. Audra has recently added Janel, who plays bass, leaving Bret to concentrate on the vocals. I haven't heard any of their work yet that includes Janel (she is not listed on this CD), but I'm hoping that freeing Bret from an instrument will allow him to take his poetry to an even higher level. Time will tell.

"In a Dark Room..." contains only four tracks. This is my greatest gripe about the CD…it's short. Just over twenty minutes of playing time. I enjoyed them and therefore would have liked to hear more, but that's just me being finicky. Everyone has to start somewhere and I can forgive them for that…providing they release another work soon, of course. The songs they chose to package on this release were good choices. The keyboards provide a spooky backdrop to Bret's Murphy-style vocals. He almost speaks the words at you and does so with a very deep and emanating energy and spirit. There is one other thing I must criticize Audra for and that is their minimalism…while a very good thing and keeping true to the poetic words of the Helm brothers, the melodies and strumming provided by the group can get a slight too repetitive. You keep waiting for a change somewhere…for something a little extra added to the flowing ghostlike sounds or maybe the sudden fade in of a stronger bass line or guitar. While the style remains true to the poetic form of the lyrics, you might find yourself thinking that a little bit more complication in the instruments might provide an even stronger feel to them.

Another item that bears definite mentioning is the second track, "In Hollywood Tonight." This track is in memory of the late Rozz Williams and the vocals are more subdued here than on the other tracks on the CD. Almost subliminal in nature, they blend wonderfully with the rest of the instrumentation. A great tribute.

Audra has a strong, albeit short, release with "In a Dark Room..." It's good to hear flowing music where the lyrics are the key focal point of the songs and the instruments are actually wrapped around the words rather than just played to simply provide background for them. I look forward to further releases by this soothing quartet and, somehow, I am sure that Bret and Bart have many more poems writ down somewhere that are more than worthy enough to be imbibed by their instruments. And, for goth's sake, somebody sign them.

Contact Information for Audra:
Post: Projekt, P.O. Box 166155, Chicago, IL, 60616