As with most artists on the Saddle Creek roster, Orenda Fink has been in her fair share of projects, from Azure Ray to Now It's Overhead to her own solo work to leader of Art in Manila, her most recent endeavor. Using a backing band with equally impressive résumés, Fink crafts lush, reflective pop songs on Art in Manila's debut, Set the Woods on Fire, that ponder eternity, perceived freedom, frailty, and the overall human condition. These are thoughtful tracks, carefully developed and arranged by Fink and her collaborators, and while the themes are generally weighty, the singer's voice -- good, but not extraordinary, with clean higher tones that can take on a rougher edge when she moves down the register -- alongside her distinct sense of melody, keep them from sinking into despair or longing or over-dramatics. This isn't to say that there's not a kind of seriousness here, one that often also graced the songs of Fink's precursors, people like Paula Cole, Sarah McLachlan, and the Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins, but Fink has her indie rock roots (seen in the Bright Eyes-esque "The Abomination" and the cover of Les Savy Fav's "The Sweat Descends") to keep her from veering too far off into the chick rock netherworld. From the sprawling plains-influenced title track to the sweet, shuffling "Time Gets Us All" to the layered "Anything You Love" to the steady rock of the thinly veiled political criticism on "Our Addictions" ("Government conspiracy/Just as false as our reality/He said take off your clothes/Then the war began, but it's a war at home" she sings pointedly in the latter), Art in Manila play pretty but focused and intelligent songs that, while they may not work to expand Fink's repertoire greatly, certainly deepen and strengthen it, proving her place among the underappreciated, often-overlooked indie rock royalty.
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AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown