It’s easy to forget how big My Chemical Romance were. The too-cool type may lazily write them off as emo–the most taboo and redundant of the genre tags–but their importance to a generation of music lovers and not-quite-cool kids trying to make sense of the post-9/11 world cannot be overstated. They were the over-the-top, fun, awesome, theatrical and yes, emotional band that we needed. I try to avoid assuming the influences of artists, but when listening to Lydia Ainsworth I can’t help but think that she found inspiration in MCR. Not necessarily musically–My Chemical Romance were like a pop-punk Queen fronted by a man who at various stages of his career looked like a vampire and a skeleton–but the dramatic catharsis of Ainsworth’s music has a similar emotional effect and grandiosity to it; and damn do I love it.
The striking thing about the music and instrumentation on Darling of the Afterglow, Ainsworth’s second album, is how many ideas and sounds are packed into its eleven songs. There are club-worthy pop numbers, groovy slow jams and gothy meditations. It’s an album that needs repeated listens to unpack and fully digest everything that is going on.
“The Road” sets the mood of the album perfectly, showcasing Ainsworth beautifully layered vocals, but the album really kicks into gear with “What Is It?”–a delightful wouldbe late 90s pop number whose chorus is propelled by some brilliantly funky bass playing topped up with whimsical banjo and horns for accent. “Afterglow”, the album’s standout track is constructed around a minimalist beat and carried along by some quiet synth drone and Ainsworth’s apocalyptic, layered hums. “Spinning” is the album’s best contender to get people dancing, but it avoids any radio-ready tropes; the songs remains distinctly Ainsworth’s.
When the chorus of the album’s lone cover, “Wicked Game”, kicks in, it is breathtaking. Ainsworth’s incredible take on the sexy Chris Isaak classic, placed between ten creative originals, grounds the album and proves Ainsworth to be a great interpreter as well as a songwriter. “I Can Feel It All” sees the album reach its peak with some almost heavy metal drumming and an appropriately stadium-ready chorus. “Nighttime Watching”, the weirdest cut on the album, brings Darling of the Afterglow to an end but not before leveling the listener with one more infectious chorus.
Darling of the Afterglow is a powerful display of creativity, great song writing and smart production. While current rock music, especially the stuff the veers toward pop, feels devoid of drama and grandiosity, Ainsworth is filling a worthy space and is doing so with passion and individuality. Her songs might not change the colour of your black heart but they will certainly fill it up and inspire you to sing it out.