The new EP Dark Side from Indian-born singer and musician Anjali Ray carries on the tradition of challenging, rewarding music sustaining her professional journey from the outset. She brings a wide breadth of musical knowledge to everything she touches without ever reducing her art to the level of an academic exercise. Instead, the songs included on Dark Side and her prior releases testify to the wealth of emotion informing her creativity and separates her from far more studied and, ultimately banal, peers and contemporaries. Credentials such as jazz piano, Hindustani vocal techniques, and classical piano aren’t skills you pick up in an offhanded fashion; Ray has cultivated her skillset from the first and the results of her hard work are evident throughout the entirety of Dark Side.
The first track “Leave Everyone Behind” is arguably the EP’s folkiest moment. Her vocal range has important differences, but keen-eared listeners may hear a generous heaping of Joni Mitchell in the way Ray tackles material such as this. It lacks many of the piercing highs common with Mitchell’s prime, but the similarities are real. She spins an excellent lyric, as well, that smacks of pure performed poetry more than any other song on this release.
Ray shows her ability to effortlessly shift gears with the EP’s second track. “California” has a quasi-classical structure that invokes the vast expanse of America’s Westernmost state without ever lapsing into ham-handed histrionics. It’s another of the EP’s more outright poetic moments, without question, yet Ray continues to temper her verbiage with an ear turned towards unity between the words and the accompanying music. One never overshadows the other.
“Apple of My Eye” flashes her pop chops for the first time. Daniel Galindo’s production enhances songs such as this without ever pulling the spotlight from Ray’s all-important role. His emphasis on providing Ray’s material with an unimpeachable percussive foundation helps anchor each of the EP’s six songs and the pop echoes rife throughout this cut never dilute the emotional authority of her songwriting or singing.
The EP’s final two cuts are much more reliant on modern pop sounds than Ray’s penchant for folkie textures. The first “Tesla” is a song of leave-taking, the end of a relationship and what that looks like for her, and features some of her best writing on the release. She’s covering familiar territory for pop songs with this one, but Ray’s talent with the English language makes it an idiosyncratic highlight.
The final track “Middle of the Night” is certainly befitting a collection entitled Dark Side. This unflinching slice of emotional autobiography never leaves listeners embarrassed or wallowing in obscurity as anyone over a certain age will relate to its primal doubts and adult concerns. Anjali Ray’s new EP is easily rated as her most mature and evolved effort yet, but she’s far from a finished product. Her writing deepens with each new release, and she keeps broadening her musical identity with an eye cast toward posterity rather than transient popularity. She’s making music of our time for all time.