Anjali Ray’s art emphasizes an assortment of key strengths. Two that leap out more than others are her ability to make the personal universal and the deceptively simple tenor of her musical arrangements. They are crafted, above all else, to serve her purposes as a singer, but she works much more as a partner for the music rather than the sole focus. It creates, even in the darkest moments of her songs, a feeling of unified harmony that ultimately elevates occasionally thorny material to a redemptive level. Her latest release, an EP entitled Dark Side, is representative of these strengths in action.
We hear them from the outset. “Leave Everyone Behind” isn’t an especially happy song, but the musical arrangement sweetens the rocky emotional terrain and makes it an appealing listen. I’m an enormous fan of how Ray consistently balances the weighty adult concerns of her material with aurally inviting arrangements that keep our experience of her music from sounding mired in despair. “Leave Everyone Behind” builds around changes that are recognizable, yet she structures it in such an identifiable signature fashion that we experience the song as a fresh, innovative creation.
None of the EP’s six songs fall short of this mark. “California” has an impressively lush sound given its largely electronic base, yet the bones of the song’s origin remain audible throughout its entirety. Ray’s experience with an assortment of vocal styles serves her well here and elsewhere as she’s able to convey technical excellence alongside emotional resonance without ever giving either short shrift. “Apple of My Eye” is probably my favorite moment on the collection. It’s arguably the supreme example of Ray’s aforementioned ability to balance mature subject matter with satisfying pop conceits. The melodic attributes of this song are especially memorable, particularly the contrast between the instrumental work and Ray’s voice.
I’m equally impressed, in some ways, by “Change”. She uses the idea of someone on the street hitting you up for a handout as a springboard into much larger matters and the ingenious nature of her songwriting here helps make this one of the EP’s best tunes. She achieves such victories here and elsewhere without ever over-extending the songs – “Change”, like the EP’s other songs, has a manageable running time.
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“Middle of the Night” goes in a completely different direction. It’s a bit incongruous, at first, to hear the crunching electric guitar in the context of a Ray song, but its presence is never omnipresent. She’s convincing in her role and the extra power she brings into her voice has subtle effects on the song as a whole. There’s something for virtually everyone on Anjali Ray’s Dark Side EP without it ever sounding like a hodgepodge of ideas. She began the recording process for this release with a clear idea of what she wanted to discuss and has succeeded by any measure. It whets my appetite to hear more of her music and I’m betting it will do the same for you. It’s an EP that engages both the mind and body.