- The Road
- What Is It?
- Open Doors
- Into the Blue
- Wicked Game
- I Can Feel It
- Nighttime Watching
“Jimi Hendrix said you need fantasy to see reality more clearly,” says Toronto’s Lydia Ainsworth. “I can relate to that sentiment.” The proof rings out on Ainsworth’s sublime second album, Darling of the Afterglow, released through Bella Union on 31st March 2017. Mixing yearning pop with other-worldly synthetic sounds, plush classical settings and weird-gothic R&B influences, Ainsworth’s follow-up to the Juno-nominated Right from Real (2014) is a richly imagined, richly felt work of future-pop classicism: an album of intimate emotions projected in heightened widescreen.
“Someone said the album sounds like Enya meets the Weeknd,” Ainsworth elaborates. The comparison resonates on ‘The Road’, where a mix of crystalline multi-tracked vocals and death’s-head rhythms locates an off-the-map road linking Bat for Lashes to Bon Iver. “The night is getting dimmer,” sings Ainsworth; and the darkness lingers on ‘What Is It’, a brightly tender earworm stalked by shadowy presences. Both showcase great leaps forward from Right from Real’s already prodigious experi-pop riches. But the show of confidence blooms for ‘Ricochet’, where Ainsworth’s ecstatic voice astonishes on a chorus you’ll be humming for months. “Over and over, every word ricochets…”
Words reverberate on the lush lullaby of ‘Afterglow’, too, where Ainsworth sings, “To play it safe is not to play at all.” That risk-taking reach is clear on ‘Open Doors’ where a zero-gravity introduction suddenly shifts into propulsive lift-off mode. ‘Spinning’ recalls Kate Bush’s The Sensual World, from its layered vocals (hints of the Trio Bulgarka) to its fretless bass. And the album gets deeper with the immersive ‘Into the Blue’, the euphoric ‘I Can Feel It All’ (inspired by the experiences of a woman seeing in 2D and having to “relearn how to see in 3D”) and the small-hours reverie ‘WLCM’, written about Ainsworth’s late grandfather. “They are a collection of frozen moments in time, like a scrapbook,” says Ainsworth of the songs.
There’s room for a cover in the scrapbook, too, with a journey into the darkly longing dream-lands of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’. Playing everywhere from festivals like Roskilde to smaller support slots (with leftfield pop heroes Chairlift, Purity Ring and Yeasayer), Ainsworth began singing Isaak’s song as an encore live, embracing its vocal-stretching challenge. Alongside teaching at a songwriting workshop for “underserved youth” in Toronto, Ainsworth has spent much of her time since Right from Real touring, stepping outside of her comfort zone to boost her confidence.
“I usually have to be out of my element to get that spark of inspiration,” she says of songwriting. The songs on Darling of the Afterglow were all begun away from home, before being brought to fruition in Toronto. Ainsworth’s father – the singer-songwriter David Krystal – co-produced and a team of local musicians were woven into Ainsworth’s programming, samples and string arrangements. The cover shot is taken by the photographer Tonje Thilesen, and the album will be further complemented with videos made by Ainsworth and her sister, the director Abby Ainsworth. (Film is in Ainsworth’s DNA: she studied composition and film scoring at university, where she also trained under Joan La Barbara, a pioneer in extended vocal technique.)
As for the album’s title, it came to Ainsworth when she was – of course – in a state of dislocation. “I was in LA at the time I wrote the song ‘Afterglow’. I was living near an area called Echo Park where there is a small lake with towering palm trees and a stone statue called ‘Lady of the lake’ — officially named ‘Nuestra Señora Reina de Los Angeles’ (Queen of the Angels). She is a beautiful 1930s art deco statue. Walking around the lake just after sunset at a time when I was desperate for human connection, I found comfort in this statue. She gave me the inspiration for the lyrics to the song. It was as if she was singing them to me.”
With an open heart and mind, Darling of the Afterglow will speak to you, too.
DARLING OF THE AFTERGLOW OUT 31 MARCH 2017