Tell you what, the clues were always there. Following Lydia Ainsworth‘s career for some time, we should have known the moment she released the cover of Wicked Game – arguably one of the best songs ever written – that some pop magic was brewing. When we look back at music in 2017, we’re pretty sure that Darling Of The Afterglow will be named one of the year’s finest, and Ainsworth its most unlikely champion.
It’s not a fair comparison to either, but there is something about this record that recalls FKA twigs. It’s ramshackle in a calculated way, but even in Ainsworth’s academic background of music it still feels delightfully organic and never studied. The Road bursts with life and punctuating piano, but it’s on What Is It? that you realise what force is at work here. That bridge, that pre-chorus, the strings behind it – this is a love-letter to pop music by a lover of pop.
And like any good record of this genre, it reveals itself more and more with each listen. We’ve lived with it for a week and we’re still discovering new layers, both in words (“lend me your shoulder, I’ll sing you an alibi”) and vocals (Ricochet lets her voice do exactly that in magnificent ways, Open Doors has whispers to haunt you for days). These are songs that are memorable, choruses that are heartfelt in a way chart acts can’t manage.
On one of the (many) standout tracks Afterglow, Ainsworth says “to play it safe is to not play at all”. No shit – in her subtle but subversive take on tropes we think we know, she’s just reinvented the game in a way no one could have predicted and has done so with utter, unbridled class. It says something that even a song like Wicked Game sits comfortably with the level of quality on display here – it’s a dazzling piece of work, and an afterglow that will long light the path for a bright career.