Lydia Ainsworth’s eclectic vision narrows on Darling of the Afterglow

Darling of the AfterglowShooting night scenes like a police photographer, Lydia Ainsworth works in the palette that she knows best: pitch black, pallor white, autopsy violet. It was scoring her friend Matthew Lessner’s 2011 film The Woods, nominally about “hipsters who move to the woods to start a utopian society,” that the NYU and McGill University student was asked to sing over her dark creations; following years immersed in atonal classical experiments, the possibility that she could be one of the pop stars she adored as a child held an appealing possibility. Better yet, as a classically trained cellist who once composed a Philip Glass-inspired score for a 50-piece orchestra, she was uniquely placed to merge both worlds. On Darling of the Afterglow, Ainsworth’s second album, one of those worlds has begun to fade away.

Even by modern standards, where voracious eclecticism has become mandatory, her range is impressive: she’s cited a rainbow coalition of influences over the years, from 17th-century baroque artist Guido Cagnacci to Ace of Base. Certainly Ainsworth’s 2014 debut Right from Real was weird in all the right places, and although there were elements that recalled the now-obligatory reference point Hounds of Love, there was enough in the way of electronic beats and synths to put her closer to contemporary Bat For Lashes in style terms.

That icy shimmer remains, though perhaps a little of the sheen has worn off in attempts to polish it further. “The Road” gradually expands into a smart, crystalline pop number, and dovetailed with some of her most charming lyric work to date (“channelling a velvet smile”), it makes for a promisingly sinister opening. Likewise, “Ricochet” locates the sweet spot between suggestive and dangerous, Ainsworth delivering the threat of “a fingertip on the domino” with a glint in her eye. There’s also some whip-smart production in places, notably the overt pop of “What Is It?”, which even an unwelcome banjo part fails to derail.

But from start to finish, Darling of the Afterglow is a disappointingly safe experience for an artist with such an off-kilter resumé. Where the debut broke up more overbearing tracks with slinky detours like “Moonstone”, this time the record adopts a somewhat aggressive pace throughout, each track sounding as though it’s vying to be a single. By the time we reach an utterly superfluous “Wicked Game” cover, the album feels spent, and not even the novel combination of FKA twigs-style vocals and metal instrumentation on “I Can Feel It” is able to rescue the album from an unremarkable end.

For an artist who clearly has everything going for her – talent, experience, education, taste – there’s very little here to suggest she’s still interested in unifying the diverse elements that make her stand out. Certainly the ‘experimental’ tag no longer fits, as this record seems to have mostly divorced Ainsworth from weird, challenging, or even significantly classical elements. Darling of the Afterglow is a solid, mostly enjoyable album of noir-ish pop, which is no mean feat by anyone's standards; except perhaps Lydia Ainsworth's, where it just feels like a cop-out.

Release: 31st March 2017, Bella Union


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