If you're not already part of the dark, dreamy electro-pop cult of Lydia Ainsworth, let this be your initiation.
Today (May 21), the Canadian singer-songwriter, composer, and producer shares her fourth album, Sparkles & Debris, and it's just as dazzling and dystopian as its name suggests.
Ainsworth crafted the album across several cities and many years, ultimately putting the finishing touches on its eleven tracks in her native Toronto. The final product — sometimes cerebral, sometimes celestial, always cathartic — is a literally spellbinding collection, in the sense that Ainsworth wrote a handful of the songs as desire-driven incantations. The only track she didn't write herself is an equally ecstatic and menacing cover of Chic's 1979 disco classic "Good Times."
Sparkles & Debris comes after 2019's Phantom Forest, 2017's Darling of the Afterglow, and 2014's Right from Real. Ainsworth has always projected a mad scientist slash sorceress aura, consistently serving up meticulously arranged, ethereal concoctions. But with its layers of electronic programming and live instrumentation, Sparkles & Debris is especially immersive, solidifying Ainsworth's status as dance-pop's reigning "queen of darkness," to borrow a phrase from one of her new album's most transfixing cuts.
Lydia Ainsworth - Sparkles & Debris (Lyric Video) www.youtube.com
Ainsworth spoke to Popdust over email about all things Sparkles & Debris, singing, and nature. Check out the full interview and watch her latest videos below.
Popdust: I know you've lived in Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles. Where's home right now? When and where did you craft the songs on your new album?
Lydia Ainsworth: Home for the moment is Toronto. It's been a relief during the pandemic to be near to my family who live here. I wrote my new album in all three cities over many years. Some songs began in my tiny Brooklyn apartment during my Right From Real era, [an] some were written in LA between tours. When all the songs were written and my electronic elements and programming were finalized, I then recorded my vocals and live band elements at various studios in Toronto.
Are there any lyrical or musical themes across these songs?
The underlying theme of Sparkles & Debris seems to be that of longing — whether that is longing in love, longing to be free from oppression, or longing for the muse of inspiration to make an appearance. I have also interspersed songs that act as spells to address those various longings. If any of my listeners want to employ them for their own desires, just be careful as they are quite potent!
Lydia Ainsworth - Parade (Official Video) www.youtube.com
Comparing Darling of the Afterglow to Right from Real, you told an interviewer, "I'm just a little more confident in my voice now." How has your vocal style evolved since then? Are there any tracks on Sparkles & Debris that you're especially excited about from a vocal perspective?
Since I was a child my biggest joy in life has been to sing, but having been a very shy and timid soul it took me ages to build up the courage to get on stage. Prior to Right from Real I had not performed much at all. After touring and playing many shows since then I have grown more relaxed and capable in my vocal capabilities. On Darling of the Afterglow I remember feeling so excited to write these acrobatic-type melodies, for instance on my song "Feel It All." On Phantom Forest I had some major belting moments, especially on "Give It Back To You" which was very challenging to perform on tour every night!
I like challenges like these, and with every album I look for a new one. For Sparkles & Debris I turned my attention more towards song structure and harmonic progressions rather than challenging my voice. However, my song "Cake" feels very freeing and powerful to sing — the song's climax really excites me from a vocal perspective. My song "Forever" has a very dreamy 70's vibe to it and the chord progression supports a chorus that is very enjoyable for me to sing.
Lydia Ainsworth - Cake (Official Video) www.youtube.com
What are some recent influences or inspirations?
I'm currently reading a book about forests and how trees communicate through smell, taste, and sound. It's fascinating. It's called The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben. In general I am really inspired by nature. I've been living in a concrete jungle in lockdown for the past year and am missing the natural world more than ever. I recently binged [David] Attenborough's Life in Colour on Netflix which was another great way to escape to nature at this time. Aslo, I am eternally inspired by Leonora Carrington paintings. They are totally mesmerizing. Each one seems to be a portal to another universe. They inspire me to create my own sonic worlds.
Can you tell us about your rendition of "Good Times"? Why'd you want to include that cover?
My "Good Times" cover came about in the lead-up to the U.S. election during the height of the pandemic. Making it was a cathartic way for me to direct my pent up frustration with the state of the world. I wanted to include it on the album because the juxtaposition between the lyrics and my vocal delivery and production seem to mirror the album's sentiment of longing for positive change in the future.
Lastly, what does the title Sparkles & Debris connote for you?
Sparkles & Debris is smiling through the tears; it's rainbows and tornadoes; it's the beauty found in all the dark corners of life.