Album Review :
Sally Grayson - The Darkness in Me

By in Reviews | 1 Comment

Label: Initiative Musik gGmbH
Release Date: July 14th, 2023


  1. The Darkness in Me
  2. Life Heist
  3. Waiting for You
  4. Sand ft. Gabriel Sullivan
  5. Melt into your Arms
  6. Intercede ft. XIXA
  7. God Forbid
  8. Dig
  9. Bonneville
  10. The Golden Hour

While I was first introduced to Sally Grayson formally in 2020, during the covid-quarantine era, it turns out that I had already heard versions of her music many years prior. She’d fronted Black Swift (based in Germany where Grayson transplanted) for a number of years, but long before that she was in Michigan-based (her native homeland) Standbye, an emo/indie rock band by whom I owned a CD. All that to say that while Sally’s name may not be familiar to the masses, she’s been making credible musical art for well over two decades now.

Unless I’m mistaken, The Darkness in Me is her first solo full-length (she’d offered a digital-only EP in 2021). Instead of the post-punk she was previously known for this time we have a dark Americana/alt country kind of feel. To get an authentic feel for it, she turned to producer Gabriel Sullivan, and a recording process deep in the American Southwest—Tucson, Arizona. Sullivan also lends guitar chops and occasional vocals.

The title track leads the album, and immediately the listener knows they’re in for a ride. Grayson’s strong vocals are met with stellar guitar work, fraught with a very low twang a lo T-Bone Burnett/Mike Roe/Duane Eddy. “Life Heist” continues the twang, but introduces a darker, harder rocking vibe similar Nick Cave’s aesthetic.

“Waiting for You” takes a turn slightly lighter. It’s a pop song with a dark edge. The musicality seems like it was lifted straight from a Twin Peaks outtake or an unknown Julee Cruise album. Never mind the fact that Grayson sounds nothing like Cruise (Sally’s vocals are much stronger and overpowering than Julee’s airy croon), but the track is culling from similar waters.

“Sand,” the most country song so far, features producer Gabriel Sullivan on vocals, who sounds quite a lot like Mark Lanegan or Tom Waits with his hushed-yet-gravelly cords. There’s also some dreamy/shoegazey guitar pop underlying the twangy folk stuff, and there is some incredible guitar work on the solo. Despite the description I just wrote, the song (to my own surprise) still sounds nothing like Mazzy Star or other artists in the genre. The songwriting team here have crafted something truly unique in a genre full of imitators.

“Melt Into Your Arms” continues the dreamy-meets-country soundscape motif, creating something that very much resembles film score music. In fact, most of the album gives off that road trip movie vibe. You know the type: a good-hearted person with a checkered past journeys across the American desert in search of/to escape from . . . fill in the rest. “Intercede” now ups the ante, and the tempo, to a romp. Again, we have Sullivan contributing his rasp to Grayson’s sultry female croon.

“God Forbid” sees Grayson’s voice at its peak. Her strong vocal tones are subdued ever-so-slightly to match the subtleties of the music, with some difficult melody runs and minor key embellishments bringing out the strength of her technique. “Dig,” on the other hand is the least twangy number in the set, opting instead for a driving rock and roll/blues rhythm line, but with some fuzzy tones reminiscent of some mid-90s industrial obsessions with the genre (think KMFDM and Love and Rockets). Sure, her post-punk roots are showing here, but it still fits in overall with the SW country-rock theme.

Appropriately titled “Bonneville” is another alt-country tune with ample crooning and lots of steel guitar in the mix. The playing on this album is exceptional. I don’t know how much Sally had to pay her session musicians, but it was worth every penny. “Golden Hour” is an effective closing track that provides some resolution to the dark musical journey we’ve been on so far. It opens with a 70s electronic feel a la early Kraftwerk, or one of those weird quasi-electronic tunes from Belle and Sebastian, and then creates a strange, but beautiful layered effect to close out the album.

This is a very good album. I think the closest comparison musically would be to some of Cat Power’s darker stuff, with hints of Over the Rhine in their rockingest mode (some of the Films for Radio material, for instance). Lyrically, the album is about yearning. Longing for love. It’s a theme that we’ve seen elsewhere in Grayson’s work. It doesn’t exclude romantic love, but it’s not exclusively about it either. It pokes and prods at the yearning to belong, to be known. And it’s all held together well by the dark, pining sounds of the desert from which the music came.

(See links section below for ordering info.)

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July 11, 2023 12:30 pm

Standbye was CRIMINALLY underrated. One of the best indie/emo bands in the Christian scene.

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