Dark Side is the latest EP release from increasingly renowned Indian singer/songwriter Anjali Ray and shows her fecund creativity reaching a high-water mark. Ray has always stood out from the pack for a variety of reasons and one of the chief merits of her work, a skillful willingness to synthesize different musical strands into an idiosyncratic whole, is in full evidence on Dark Side’s songs. Her bravery is also apparent. The songs included on Dark Side unflinchingly delve into the shadowy recesses of Ray’s memory and subconscious without leaving the listener feeling slightly embarrassed as if they are eavesdropping on a confession.
There is something bracing, however, about hearing a songwriter operating in full honesty. It’s apparent that Ray is holding nothing back, and if she does so it is artfully, from the first song. “Leave Everyone Behind” has a sense of stakes that is common to this EP and Ray’s songwriting in general. Building her lyrical musings around a sonic narrative long on color and boasting inexhaustible dynamics further highlights her all-around strengths as a writer, singer, and perhaps above all else, as a listener. “California” further reinforces the latter point. The EP bears her name alone, without a doubt, but Ray doesn’t treat herself as the sole star of the show and approaches each of her half-dozen performances as band outings rather than vehicles for her voice alone.
“Apple of My Eye” is the EP’s most accessible moment and should appeal to a broad cross-section of listeners. It has a lighter melodic touch than any other track included on Dark Side that helps smooth over any rough emotionally fraught edges in the songwriting and it’s the blend of the sour and sweet that helps give Ray’s work added poignancy. She hits new inspired heights with “Change” as the lyric plays with an effective metaphor that sustains much, if not the entirety, of this song. Her vocal performance is, as well, an unquestionable highlight as the lyric elicits new levels of passion from her that break new ground on the EP rather than retreading over past victories.
“Tesla” reaches the same heights, albeit along markedly different routes. It’s musically an unique conglomeration of the two approaches defining the EP’s songs thus far mixing a synth/keyboard-driven pop slant with Ray’s folk music inclinations. It’s an excellent penultimate track bridging us to a truly surprising end. “Middle of the Night” summons a rock posture for the EP’s closing moment and any doubters who suspect Ray is incapable of matching up well with a strong electric guitar presence will be silenced in short order. It’s a rousing conclusion to a short song cycle that says more in six songs than many full-length releases offer.
She’s growing her reputation the right way. Each new release extends her thematic capabilities without ever forsaking the initial spark that set her journey alight. Dark Side is a bit of a misleading title; yes, it speaks to the unwavering gaze she casts upon her life in all its triumphs and failures, but it’s ultimately a life-affirming listening experience because she’s still standing tall to tell the tale.