The music isn’t the first thing you’ll notice about Lydia Ainsworth’s video for “Malachite,” one of the year’s best clips. Visually, the clip is a hypnotic nightmare, a cryptic tableau of street-dancers dressed like ghouls and moving like dream-logic wraiths. It’s shot in some nondescript warehouse space and made to look like a single shot, as if to imply that strange and terrifying things are happening somewhere near you right now, in some room you might walk past everyday. But those rave-as-black mass visuals from director Matthew Lessner wouldn’t have the impact they do if not for Ainsworth’s music, a heady stew of gasping voices and tingling synths. The video is a true collaboration — Lessner also wrote the song’s lyrics — but it feels like a demonstration of the ways that Ainsworth’s music can push things even further into the uncanny. On the surface, Ainsworth is one of many people making glimmering, atmospheric electronic pop music in bedroom studios around the world. But almost none of those home-recording auteurs know how to layer up sounds the way Ainsworth does so effectively. And none of them has the power to raise goosebumps the way she can.
Right From Real, Ainsworth’s debut, isn’t a proper album; it’s a collection of two EPs that she released online earlier this year. But you wouldn’t know that from listening to it. Right From Real doesn’t feel stitched together. It’s a complete experience, a consistent mood piece that unfurls seamlessly. Ainsworth switches back and forth between the acoustic and the electronic, but she makes them make sense together. On opening track “Candle,” an entire orchestral string section is the first thing we hear, and the blips and beeps don’t really bubble up alongside the pizzicato plucking and jaunty sawing until more than a minute in. But when they do come in, those electronic sounds seem to be in conversation with the strings. As the track builds, it gets hard to tell what’s made from a tangible handheld instrument — what’s “real” — and what’s not. Ainsworth does similar things with her voice, too. She sings in an airy birdlike coo, and when she’s just singing, it’s likely. But she’s just as likely to chop her voice into stuttering shards, or to artificially deepen it, or to turn that voice into a sped-up chipmunk-squeak. Often, she’ll do two or more of these things at once, cloning herself into a multitracked choir.
Ainsworth isn’t anywhere near as showy or pyrotechnic with her voice, but there’s a clear Kate Bush/Björk influence in the way she uses that voice. Like those two, she’s got a high trill that can, at times, sound otherworldly. And like them, she makes these weird melodic decisions, these left turns that don’t seem logical but somehow work out anyway. She’s got her own logic to the way she sings. And Bush, in particular, is an avowed favorite. But it would be a mistake to look at Ainsworth as a Bush disciple. This mix of inspirations that she made for Dazed starts out with Bush, but it’s also got ominous film music from Wendy Carlos and Bernard Herrmann, arty conceptual synthpop from Japan and the Art Of Noise, and folk music from a Bulgarian choir. All those sounds manifest themselves in one way or another on Right For Real.
Ainsworth started out studying film scoring. For one class, she got to use a 50-piece orchestra to score student films. That sort of experience has to build confidence, and you can hear confidence in her songs, in the way she layers all those string sounds into these rich landscapes of sound. The synthpop influence is even more pronounced. During “Take Your Face Off,” the melody from the Art Of Noise’s peerless “Moments In Love” comes wafting through, and the quote makes perfect sense. Her tracks float in much the same way. On her tracks, those computer sounds flutter and blink, filling out the gaps between the strings and layering up in their own ways. As for that Bulgarian choir, Ainsworth’s songs have a similarly ritualistic feel to them. They sound like they’ve been beamed to us from some tribal alternate timeline, one where we use our computers to access the sacred. Hers is a heady combination of sounds and ideas, an evocative sound that belongs entirely to her. If you throw Right From Real on while you’re driving at night, everything you see will take on some of that same strange, dark beauty as the “Malachite” video.
Right From Real is out now on Arbutus.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Thom Yorke’s out-of-nowhere solo affair Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.
• Christopher Owens’ bright, linear, gospel- and country-inflected A New Testament.
• Electric Wizard’s doom metal monolith Time To Die.
• Prince’s twin major-label returns ART OFFICIAL AGE and PLECTRUMELECTRUM.
• Tove Lo’s personal pop-music masterclass Queen Of The Clouds.
• Joan Shelly’s expertly written, miniaturist Electric Ursa.
• Former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way’s Britpop/glam-influenced debut Hesitant Alien.
• The Rural Alberta Advantage’s rustic return Mended With Gold.
• The Vaselines’ twee pogo party V For Vaselines.
• Team Spirit’s garage rock rave-up Killing Time.
• Paul White’s instrumental rap exploration Shaker Notes.
• Sam Amidon’s minimalist folk exercise Lily-O.
• John Southworth’s geography-themed double album Niagara.
• Lucinda Williams’ gritty, lived-in Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone.
• Puig Destroyer’s self-titled baseball-themed grindcore debut.
• Ruby Fray’s mystical, psychedelic sophomore effort Grackle.
• Ausmuteants’ noise-pop attack Order Of Operation.
• Giant Claw’s idiosyncratic club collage DARK WEB.
• Curtin’s experimental Americana album One For The Doghearted.
• Hemingway’s emo-throwback debut Pretend To Care.
• Witch Mountain’s doom incantation Mobile Of Angels.
• Night Bringer’s black metal attack Ego Dominus Tuus.
• Das Rad’s noisy psych rocker Radiation.
• Sea Oleena’s spacious, ambient Shallow.
• Francisco The Man’s jittery debut Loose Ends.
• Nicolas Jaar’s Other People compilation Work.
• Steve Arrington’s retrospective collection WAY OUT (80-84).
• Hudson Mohawke’s Chimes EP.
• Baio’s On&On&On&On EP.
• JEFF The Brotherhood’s covers EP Dig The Classics.
• Beach Slang’s Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street EP.
• Earl Boykins’ Everybody Likes Dogs EP.
• Self Defense Family’s Duets EP.
• Blood Sister’s self-titled EP.
• Kero Kero Bonito’s Bonito Recycling remix EP.
• Tegan And Sara’s I Was A Fool Remixed EP.