Dark Side, the new EP collection from Indian-born musical artist Anjali Ray, takes its place beside Ray’s earlier releases as a stark musical testimony to her talents. Her bracing mix of several disparate styles such as Hindustani vocal techniques, jazz, and classical finds fertile ground when blended with a structured songwriting approach that plumbs her pop songwriting talents.
It’s never facile, however. Ray has a substantive musical and lyrical message she conveys with each of the EP’s songs and does so in an effortless fashion. There’s an immense stylishness defining these songs, as well, that will exert considerable appeal for both casual and serious music fans alike. The stylishness is apparent from the first.
She threads “Leave Everyone Behind” together from an almost gossamer-like swirl of instrumental contributions. It isn’t hard to hear how this song began life with just her voice, pen, paper, and an acoustic guitar, but she didn’t stop there. She fleshes it out further with artful electric guitar contributions and a dollop of keyboards for added atmosphere and color.
“California”, on the other hand, is resplendent by comparison. It’s impressive to hear how sure she is mastering its whirlwinds of sound, the rising and falling away of the arrangement, and producer Daniel Galindo deserves credit for that as well. Ray has certainly found an ideal collaborator for such moments in Galindo, if for no other reason than the fact that his aid allows her to get on with the business of writing and, most importantly, performing.
His contributions are particularly critical in songs such as “Apple of My Eye”. Recording one’s disappointments in love and other connections is the stock in trade of every songwriter worth their salt and it’s gripping to hear the individualistic take that Ray gives us on this tradition. She’s surrounded by a first-class musical arrangement especially distinguished by a punchy rhythm section performance.
“Change” is one of the EP’s most affecting moments. It’s more talk than singing from Ray during this one, but few if any listeners will mind. She gives it a superficially breezy treatment but listen closely to this track and nuance abounds. The shuffle-like drum track is effective without ever sounding too precious or clever by half. One of the strongest pop moments on the EP arrives with “Tesla” and the rhythm section shines again.
The real standout moment during the second half of the EP, however, is the last track. “Middle of the Night” casts aside any hesitation and rocks out with surprising conviction. It isn’t an one-note performance, however, and Ray wisely mixes things up with dynamics fitting for its rock leanings. She’s written a solid set of songs for this new release that are more than capable of standing toe to toe with her past work.
Dark Side isn’t afraid to explore that. She finds a terrible beauty in pain, perhaps embracing the idea that those pangs of grief are among life’s ways of reminding us that we are alive and in the moment. It’s always a timely thing to remember and I’m glad she’s willing to remind us.