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CD Review: A Composite of Straight Lines – Vivek Shraya

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I used to run a music label in New York City. In the late 1980s, my friend and fellow label-owner Phil and I developed a procedure for dealing with an ever-growing pile of demo tapes. On a particular weekend, we’d pack our wives and kids into his green 1969 Cadillac El Dorado convertible, drop the kids off at his sister’s place in Elizabeth, New Jersey, proceed to the New Jersey Turnpike, and take a harried drive down to Atlantic City. Along the way, we’d listen to three songs on the demo tapes and CDs.

The bad and okay ones would be pitched into the breeze and end up decorating the turnpike. The outstanding ones were kept for further review. By the time we made it back from Atlantic City, we’d have two or three demos each out of the original 100.

Unfortunately, Vivek Shraya probably would’ve ended up on the highway. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with this EP, but there isn’t much that strikes me as terribly special about it either.

Shraya is a young, extremely handsome Canadian musician and songwriter. He has self-produced and released a couple of other CDs in the past few years, and has had a fairly intense touring schedule around Ontario and Alberta. I suspect he’s a charmer in person, something that’s extremely difficult to capture on recording tape. His songs are listenable, but nothing that really grabs me emotionally. Through the six tracks on A Composite of Straight Lines, I was fully aware of my surroundings- there just wasn’t enough happening musically to steal my attention away from the outer world.

I think the main problem here is a chasm in personal experiences. From his songwriting, it occurs to me that Shraya doesn’t yet possess the insights of a worldly and perhaps more cynical sojourner. He certainly cannot be blamed for his youth, but when taking the emotional substance of so many people his age; Shraya lacks the ability to communicate with music fans who need a connection to the music they’re listening to.

There is potential here. Shraya’s instrumentation, along with guest performer Tegan Quinn, is exceptional. I can see Shraya working steadily on tours as a backup musician or in various studios across the Canadian tundra. But his songwriting needs some years to develop as he learns to risk exposing the most torturous of his agonies and the epiphanies in his life discoveries to those craving to learn of him through his musical odyssey.

Fortunately, I’ve grown up since my carefree days throwing demo tapes from convertibles, leaving them to the cruel indifference of the angry and sometimes psychotic drivers on the turnpike. I’m going to keep Shraya’s disc, and look for more of his music down the road, hoping he finds the maturity his songwriting needs. He’ll be surprised how much better people will respond to his work.
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