Anjali Ray’s “Dark Side” EP

Never underestimate the impact of a heart laid bare.

Anjali Ray’s Dark Side is a moving and emotionally rich songwriting tapestry that accomplishes more in a few songs than many albums do in a dozen. The prodigiously talented singer/songwriter and musician opens herself up in full for us over the course of Dark Side’s half-dozen tracks, but the effect isn’t akin to watching a car crash happen. Instead, it’s an intensely human affair, and one virtually any adult listener will connect with. She isn’t writing about astonishing new topics in the landscape of popular songs, but she nevertheless stamps his songs with a distinctive voice that leaves me a little in awe of its unabashed sincerity.

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I knew I was hearing the beginnings of something special when I made my first pass through “Leave Everyone Behind”. The decisive emotions underpinning this track are brought out in sharp relief coupled with an arrangement that draws us in and holds the listener’s attention for the entirety of the performance. Chrouses are one of the indispensable strengths of Ray’s songs and the refrain for “Leave Everyone Behind” ranks as one of the EP’s best.

“California” is a much different kettle of fish. The stylized folk music sound of the opener morphs into a synthesizer-laden piece with a near-orchestral bent. In the hands of a lesser songwriter and performer, “California” would descend into ham-fisted melodrama, but Ray’s lyrical acumen and wont for compelling arrangements steers this track into a safe harbor where it can prosper rather than sounding overblown.

She hits a new peak with the EP’s third track and single “Apple of My Eye”. It hinges on a straightforward melody and the resulting tension that arises from juxtaposing its instrumental melody with the vocal counterpart is much of the reason for its success. The cut likewise features one of the best lyrics on the Dark Side EP. “Tesla” is one of the most emotional moments on the release and the accompanying musical arrangement further develops the dramatic implications of Ray’s writing. There are several key lines scattered throughout the song’s lyrics that do a particularly excellent job of bringing its emotional weight home for listeners and Ray’s vocal instrument is a supremely well-suited vehicle for conveying their importance.

“Middle of the Night” closes the release with a surprise for newcomers. Ray hasn’t prepared us for her slide into a rock arrangement, but “Middle of the Night” pays off with its mix of pop sensibilities and electric guitar. There are no pseudo-virtuosic instrumental breaks; the guitar playing has a much more compositional slant than behaving in a cliched manner. It’s a powerful final curtain for the release that enchanted me when I first heard it and I’m an admirer of the EP overall – for the risks it takes, for wearing its heart on its sleeve, for its skill, and for sounding so restlessly and relentlessly human. It’s a rewarding spin from the first listen and further plays only reinforce its value. Seek it out today.

Nicole Killian

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Nicole loves to go cross country skiing, swimming, reading and critiquing books, listening and critiquing music, some culinary arts, pottery, spending time with my daughter, cheesy horror films.

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