Premiere: Lydia Ainsworth Releases Lush New EP with “Phantom Forest – String Remixes”

On Phantom Forest- String Remixes, Lydia Ainsworth pushes forward into 2020 with lush string arrangements performed by Toronto’s Venuti Quartet. The EP offers reinterpretations of four tracks from her 2019 album, Phantom Forest, that highlight the Canadian singer/producer’s background in classical and film music (she recently collaborated with Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein for “Earth Song” for the third season of Stranger Things) while maintaining a pop sensibility.

For the past half-decade, Ainsworth has been capturing the sound of modern introspection. Like her dark pop contemporaries– Austra, FKA Twigs and Sevdaliza come to mind– she vibes off an amalgamation of sounds that run the gamut from ’80s goth to ’90s trip-hop to turn-of-the-century experimental electronic music, infusing that mix with lyrics that are steeped in present-day feminism.

Her debut album, Right from Real, was nominated for the “Electronic Album of the Year” Juno in 2015 (and she was the only female artist in the category that year). Since then, Ainsworth has continued to forge a path of dramatic synthpop. On last year’s Phantom Forest, she explored themes of nature and technology in a collection of mellow, groovy dance tunes. With a voice that is, at times, reminiscent of Kate Bush and Tori Amos, Ainsworth can lead listeners into worlds that feel both mythical and very real. She does this with a knack for beats that are as suitable for listening at home as they are for a club. WIth String Remixes, Ainsworth places the emphasis on private listening, where you can stop moving and focus on her voice and lyrical content.

“Edge of the Throne” opens the collection, heard here as a slice of orchestral R&B that plays up Ainsworth’s strength and versatility as a vocalist. It ends with “Can You Find Her Place,” which removes the subtly funky beat of the album version to highlight the tenderness in her voice. These two tracks provide solid bookends for the EP, opening and closing a journey into another side of Phantom Forest.

The most radical transformation on the EP is “Diamonds Cutting Diamonds.” As it appears on Phantom Forest, the song is a darkwave jam with disco undertones. Here, Ainsworth ditches the dance beats and replaces the synth lines with plucky strings. The overall effect is a more cerebral listening experience, emphasizing the wildlife imagery and folk tale allusions in her poetry.

The string remix of “Tell Me I Exist” is sparse and highlights the existential dread of the social media age. Last year, Ainsworth noted that the song was about “the urge to be seen online at the cost of one’s anonymity.” In this rendition of the track, you can sense the aching in her voice as she sings, “Tell me I exist/Look what I’ve become/Prove that I’m still here/Prove that I’m enough.” On Phantom Forest, “Tell Me I Exist” is one of the standout tracks and this remix digs into what makes it so effective as a lament, grieving the loss of a time when we weren’t giving away privacy “likes”.

Phantom Forest- String Remixes also features Lydia Munchinsky on cello, Drew Jurecka on first violin, Rebekah Wolkstein on second violin and Shannon Knights on viola. The EP is now available digitally. 

PREMIERE: Lydia Ainsworth Puts Self-Doubt in Check with “Diamonds Cutting Diamonds”

“In chess, the opening moves are the most important,” Lydia Ainsworth tells me, but won’t go into further detail lest future opponents learn to anticipate her strategy. The Toronto-based experimental pop composer took up playing online simulators and later moved to competing with friends and fans who challenged her on Instagram when mysterious bouts of vertigo made it difficult for her to focus on little else. Though the unexplained vertigo faded, playing chess made a fitting theme for a video set to “Diamonds Cutting Diamonds,” the first track on her Phantom Forest LP, released last year. Not only does the song open her album, it was the first one she completed for the collection – an opening move that determined the rest of her shrewd compositional decisions and ultimately led to a victorious marriage of her classical training with modern sounds and ideas.

“I had been working and working on [a new album] for ages, and I couldn’t crack the code,” she remembers. “I called [the song] ‘Diamonds Cutting Diamonds’ because it went through many stages and I was just hacking away at it.” Lyrically inspired by a reading of landmark 1992 tome Women Who Run With the Wolves by Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés, the song encourages the same reawakening of the wild inner self – a source of creativity, passion, intuition, and strength – and celebrates the “wild woman” archetype as a means of empowerment. “Baby hides her claws again/She’s twitching but won’t let it show/Masking inner wildlife/Be what you are and let it go,” Ainsworth trills over her slinky synth bassline. She took her own advice to heart, self-releasing Phantom Forest as a means of retaining ownership over her creative work, and embracing what has become her trademark sound – a unique mélange of of ethereal voicework, futuristic textures, orchestral arrangements, and biting observation delivered in a disarmingly dance-worthy package.

At every turn, the video for “Diamonds Cutting Diamonds” reflects both internal pressure and the positive results that can arise from it (as Ainsworth promises, “Failure draws a crystal out from underneath a curse”). Graceful choreography (courtesy of Kalie Hunter, who runs a dance studio called Metro Movement near Ainsworth’s home) depicts a bull and a matador in an endless, teasing standoff; Ainsworth kicks useless pawns out of her path; characters hold signs that boldly spell “HAVE NO FEAR.” Directed by Ainsworth’s younger sister Abby (who also directed a clip for Phantom Forest cut “Can You Find Her Place“), the video has a dream-like feel, owed in no small part to the fact that it was shot mostly in slow motion, with the dancers performing in double-time to accommodate. Ainsworth twirls around the life-sized chess board in a truly stunning costume composed of white feathers (designed by Emily Kowalik), a reference to the “bird of prey” motif in the song, which hearkens back to the wild woman archetype. All of it works together to create an intriguing blueprint of the ideas at play within the song itself, and cements Ainsworth herself as a true artistic visionary.

“The song is about breaking free to your authentic self, not caring what anyone thinks, unlocking your inner wildness and just being you, so I used the chess board as a metaphor for that,” Ainsworth says. “I don’t really listen to trends in music. I try to actually steer away from trends. When I’m writing, first and foremost, I want to write something that I want to hear. It’s not because it’s gonna be popular, which is maybe to my detriment.” Often compared to Kate Bush, Ainsworth leans proudly into that likeness without being derivative. On Phantom Forest, she sings from the point of view of Mother Nature, critiques facial recognition technology, and covers Pink Floyd’s “Green Is The Colour.” Though she’s already mixing new material that she hopes will be ready for release by spring of this year, she’s also remixed four Phantom Forest tracks for string quartet.

“I grew up playing cello, so I’ve always loved string instruments and wanted to reimagine these songs in that way,” she explains. Though Phantom Forest has some subtle string elements, most of it was electronically produced with little to no live instrumentation other than Ainsworth’s voice. “It’s like taking an oil painting and then making it into a black and white sketch,” she says.

This process of constant reinvention, joyful experimentation, and – though Ainsworth jokes that she’s “a terrible procrastinator ruled by fear” – prolific work ethic buoyed by seemingly dauntless confidence can be easily boiled down to one of the most salient mantras offered up in “Diamonds Cutting Diamonds:” “Double dare the old world away.” Ainsworth may have struggled through the process of writing, producing, and self-releasing Phantom Forest, but she makes slaying self doubt look both effortless and fun. With “Diamonds Cutting Diamonds,” Ainsworth provides a surefire anthem of validation for anyone who feels a little at odds with those around them.

Follow Lydia Ainsworth on Facebook for ongoing updates.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Cardi B Makes Grammy History, Ryan Adams is a Creep, and MORE

Cardi B and Offset make their reconciliation official on the red carpet at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards.

Cardi B Makes Grammy Moves

Cardi B made Grammy history on Sunday night with a huge win in the Best Rap Album category for Invasion of Privacy (she had five nominations total). She’s the first solo female rapper to take home the award – the only other woman to have received a Grammy for Best Rap Album is Lauryn Hill, when her group The Fugees nabbed the 1997 honors with their iconic album The Score. Cardi appeared on the red carpet dressed in vintage Thierry Mugler and husband Offset on her arm, signifying the end of a tense hiatus for the couple following rumors of Offset’s infidelity. Cardi also made fast friends with Lady Gaga, who offered support in the face of a backlash D, she also spent time on the red carpet chatting with Lady Gaga, who was quick to support the rapper in the face of backlash from haters following the award ceremony. Cardi took a brief break from Instagram but, never one to rest on her laurels, capped off the week by releasing “Please Me,” a duet with Bruno Mars.

Donald Glover also had a big night, though he didn’t attend the awards ceremony; Childish Gambino’s “This is America” won both Song of the Year (distinctly given to songwriters) and Record of the Year (which goes to the performers, producers, and engineers). It was the first rap single to do so.

Other big winners included Brandi Carlile, who won three of the six awards she was nominated for (Best Americana Album for By the Way, I Forgive You LP and two awards for its single “The Joke”); Kacey Musgraves, who won overall Album of the Year for Golden Hour as well as three additional awards in Counrty categories; Lady Gaga, who won an award for “Shallow” as well as “Joanne” despite it being released two whole years ago; Ariana Grande who nabbed the Best Pop Vocal Album; St. Vincent who won Best Rock Song for “Masseduction;” Greta Van Fleet who won for Best Rock Album; and Best New Artist Dua Lipa.

We’re Not Surprised Ryan Adams is a Creep

“If people knew they would say I was like R Kelley lol.” This is a pretty damning text coming from a 40-year old man who’s soliciting nudes from a teenager, and they came from none other than Ryan Adams, according to an investigative article by the New York Times. The report details the online relationship between Adams and a woman they call Ava, who was just fourteen when the two began to exchange messages that eventually culminated in phone sex less than two years later. The piece has prompted an FBI investigation into the singer-songwriter, though the alleged victim never disclosed her actual age during their relationship and never met in person.

Whether his actions are criminal or not is somewhat beside the point, though, as the rest of the piece establishes a pattern wherein Adams promised young female musicians – including Phoebe Bridgers, Courtney Jaye, and his ex-wife Mandy Moore – a boost in their careers via collaboration, mentorship, production, tour spots, releasing music via his label Pax-Am (an offshoot of Capitol), et al, but then attempted to shift the relationship to something sexual, even exposing himself to women who came to his studio to develop their projects. In instances where consensual relationships resulted from his advances, they often became obsessive and abusive, and he allegedly held collaborative work hostage as a means of keeping contact open. After remaining vague in a profile in Glamour earlier this year that prompted him to refer to her as a “soggy piece of cardboard,” former teen-pop-star turned actress Mandy Moore went into much greater detail about the control Adams wielded over her career and their relationship, admitting that he was psychologically abusive.

It’s no secret that Adams has penned vindictive tunes about his exes; one of his most beloved songs, “Come Pick Me Up,” from his 2000 solo debut Heartbreaker, is said to be inspired by the end of his relationship with music publicist Amy Lombardi (another track on the record is titled with her first name alone). And though his back to front cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 was critically praised, it certainly raised eyebrows for some. Since the NYT article was published, Liz Phair, Karen Elson, and others have hinted that professional endeavors with Adams went awry due to similar behavior, which through the years has often been seen as erratic, owing to drug abuse an mental health issues. But in an industry that (as many have pointed out) still needs to have its #MeToo reckoning thanks to the seemingly inextricable tangle of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, Ryan Adams’ creepitude is a whole new layer of yikes.

That New New

This delightfully bizarre video for “Under The Sun” has got us so pumped for Spellling’s new record Mazy Fly, which drops February 22 via Sacred Bones.

Pecas are all about the smooth grooves on their latest single “T-Shirt.”

Watch an adorable turtle monch some kale in the new Mal Blum video ahead of their tour in support of Lucy Dacus.

This Robyn video is equal parts promotion for her 2018 album Honey and her new clothing line.

Bebe Rexha shared a video for “Last Hurrah” as a teaser for her yet-unannounced sophomore record.

Lizzo shared a video for the epic title track from her forthcoming album, out April 19.

Lydia Ainsworth returns with “Can You Find Her Place,” from the upcoming LP Phantom Forest, out May 10.

Wet shared a video for “Old Bone” as well as another song, “Trust No Man,” before heading out on tour with Kilo Kish.

Rare DM (formerly known as Ermine) release their debut album Vanta Black on April 12 and have shared a video for “Caracal.”

Cold Cave have released a new one-off single ahead of their tour with Adult.

Tim Hecker is releasing more music from his Tokyo sessions with Japanese gagaku musicians, which resulted in 2018’s gorgeous Konoyo. The companion album, titled Anoyo, will be out May 10 via Kranky; Hecker will do a series of sold-out performances with the Konoyo ensemble at National Sawdust next week.

Julia Holter shared a video for “Les Jeux to You,” which appears on last year’s Aviary LP.

Hand Habits’ sophomore album placeholder comes out March 1 via Saddle Creek; the video for latest single “what lovers do” follows clips for “can’t calm down” and the LP’s title track.

Flock of Dimes and Madeline Kenney are releasing a split 7″ after working together on the latter’s 2018 LP Perfect Shapes; Jenn Wasner’s other musical project, Wye Oak, just released a track called “Evergreen” for Adult Swim’s singles series.

Potty Mouth are back with SNAFU, out March 1, and have a new video for “Starry Eyes” to get us psyched.

Gangster Doodles mastermind Marlon Sassy shared a collab between Madlib and Oh No called “Big Whips,” which will appear on his curated comp Gangster Music Vol. 1.

Take a listen to previously-unreleased Tom Petty track “For Real,” which will appear on a posthumous collection called The Best of Everything on March 1.

End Notes

  • Kenny G spent his Valentine’s Day serenading Kim Kardashian at the behest of Kanye West.
  • A shooting at Westlake Recording Studio in Hollywood on Tuesday jeopardized the recording sessions of Usher and Rich the Kid; members of the latter’s entourage were pistol whipped in the apparent robbery, but no one was shot.
  • Katy Perry has pulled a controversial pair of shoes from her website and other retailers after facing backlash from critics who say the design is a little too reminiscent of blackface.
  • Capcom has uploaded the soundtracks to some of their classic video games, like Mega Man and Street Fighter, to Spotify.
  • Louisville, KY’s Forecastle Fest announced their lineup for this year, which includes The Killers, The Avett Brothers, Anderson .Paak, Maggie Rogers, Chvrches, and more, and will take place July 12-14.
  • Ozzy Osbourne is reportedly doing much better after being hospitalized for complications of the flu.
  • Democratic nominee contender Kamala Harris failed at an attempt to seem cool when she claimed to have listened to Snoop Dog and Tupac while smoking reefer in college… before either had released music.
  • Record Store Day has named Pearl Jam its official ambassadors for RSD2019. The esteemed position has previously been held by the likes of Metallica, Foo Fighters, St. Vincent, Run the Jewels, Jack White, Iggy Pop, and Chuck D.