Art-pop experimentalist Lydia Ainsworth returns with her self-produced album “Phantom Forest” on May 10th. Ainsworth’s third album introduces a lush, complex dream world that the singer, composer and producer created and inhabited pretty much independently. She produced and wrote all the songs and performed everything on the self-released collection (apart from a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Green is the Colour”) and two other tracks – “The Time, and ” “Give It Back To You”, which started as instrumentals written by Survive’s Kyle Dixon (who composed Netflix’s “Stranger Things” soundtrack with bandmate Michael Stein), to which Ainsworth wrote melodies and added lyrics.
Ainsworth, who relocated to Los Angeles from Toronto after 2017’s stunning sophomore album “Darling of the Afterglow”, explains that the collection revealed itself to her “as a play taking place in Mother Nature’s vanishing home,” a.k.a. Phantom Forest, and that she’s singing from three perspectives: herself, Mother Nature, and the Greek Chorus.
“Diamonds Cutting Diamonds” is the current single and album opener and it’s a gorgeous gem of a song. Dense, bass electronica and twinkling retro ‘80s tones join programmed vocals and Ainsworth’s distinctive, piercing voice as she sings about the entrance to “Phantom Forest and how one must draw from the innate feminine wild within to unlock obstacles along the path.” It’s a fitting introduction to what is essentially a musical journey embracing Nature and the Gods.
“Tell Me I Exist” is trademark Ainsworth in sound with opaque electro loops and spirals of shimmering synth providing an icy backdrop to her intense vocal. Here Ainsworth is questioning the importance we place on our social media value – those instant boosts to the human ego of “likes” which are fleeting and futile: “Tell me I exist/ Look what I’ve become/ Prove that I’m still here/ Prove that I’m enough” On the second repeat of the chorus, Ainsworth makes room for the string arrangements she loves and the combination of the synths and strings add mournful melancholy.
The musical curveball is next with “Can You Find Her Place” which is uncharacteristically upbeat and playful in tempo and is a delicious pop track with retro disco beats, steel drum flourishes and smooth, synth sighs. Ainsworth again manages to magically weave the string arrangements through the song. The following two tracks “Edge Of The Throne” with glistening synths, twinkling keyboards and heavy throbs of bass is resplendent with Ainsworth’s exalting vocal whilst “Kiss The Future” – a concoction of programmed sounds, is a chameleon of a song with a mystical quality with pauses and breaks in the vocals and twists and turns of synth.
“The Time” is an album highlight. It is a stunning, expansive and beautifully cinematic piece of work. I could quite happily have this song on repeat forever. It’s a lush “protest” song if you like – a plea for us to do something about climatic change, to take care of our planet – with pulses of warm electronica and twangs of the bass guitar creating a bewitching soundscape. Ainsworth’s vocal is full of yearning and hypnotises throughout, especially in the emotive chorus: “If time could scream, it’s now or never/In fire and ice, let’s dance forever”.
“Give It Back To You” is central to the album’s theme of nature and showcases Ainsworth’s creativity both vocally and sonically. Buzzes of synth give the song a futuristic feel although the underlining atmospheres remain spiritual and celestial. “Floating Dream” goes full-on Fleetwood Mac with rolling drums and lilts of Spanish guitar. The final track is a lovely reworking of Pink Floyd’s “Green Is The Colour” which seems tailor-made to close the curtain on “Phantom Forest”. Distorted programmed sounds open the song with those evocative lyrics: “Heavy hung the canopy of blue Shade my eyes and I can see you White was the light That shines through the dress that you wore.” It’s such an illustrated song with Ainsworth’s vocal both enchanting and beguiling that it’s almost impossible to listen to without imagining the heat of the summer sun on your face right up to the gentle laps of water which bring the song to its end.
“Phantom Forest” is an exquisite listen. Lydia Ainsworth has created another album that successfully merges classical and electronica in her own inventive and distinctive style, seamlessly blending strings with synths whilst at the centre of it all, that one additional instrument – her dazzling voice.