Right From Real
30 September 2014 (Arbutus Records)
By Josh Hughes
Please excuse me as I freak out for a minute. An album by a music major and cellist with an ethereal voice, accented by electronic flourishes and complex rhythms, on Grimes’ label, accompanied with a beautiful image of turning aspens. If there’s such a thing as an album I knew I’d like before I heard it, “Right From Real” is that album.
Contextualized, this eight track album was originally two four track EPs released at separate times. However, there’s an almost needed clarity to the work as a whole when enjoyed as the full experience of “Right from Real”. Ainsworth takes little time introducing us to everything in its 30 minute run, battling live instrumentation with precise synthesizers and chopped vocal samples all within the first two minutes of “Candle”. Her voice cuts in with delicacy and power at the same time, drawing similarities to 2014’s critical darling FKA Twigs. But where Twigs relies on more minimal sketches, Ainsworth battles and switches musical directions multiple times per song, hardly ever repeating a synthesized drum fill or cello stab (rivaling Autre Ne Veut’s production).
Beyond pop experimentation, there’s constant flirting with choral chants and eastern influences. Mid album highlight “Moonstone” is where Baths meets CHVRCHES, filled with an unabashedly gorgeous vocal performance so catchy that it rivals the queen Grimes’ knack for pop artistry. “Hologram” is the undeniable showstopper here, with an equally gorgeous wordless hook. The production throughout is meticulously handled, cleanly in its mixing what seems like fifteen tracks at certain points.
While the sparse beauty falters in the more synth ridden tracks near the front of the album, Ainsworth finds her strongest moments when the cello breaks out of the organized chaos. Her classically trained musicianship works to the album’s advantage, where a four line chorus never feels repetitive, and where motifs are altered and scattered where you’d least expect. From this vantage point, it’s curious that there aren’t more composers that try their hand at pop music.
Drawing another and final comparison with FKA Twigs, the skittering background music is so strong that it could stand on its own as instrumental music. But, that’s clearly not enough, because when you can add harmonious Gregorian indebted choruses and wispy drawn out syllables, why not? All that’s really lacking within “Right From Real” is that it’s only 30 minutes long, when Ainsworth easily has the capacity to hold longer attention spans. It’s a fantastic debut statement, one that could see another master of pop rising amidst the dreary regurgitations of major chord patterns and American Idol-style vocals that is the top 40. 2014 is shaping up to be one of the best years in recent memory for popular music, and Ainsworth is only adding to that list.
Rating: Loved It
Fave Tracks: “Candle,” “Moonstone,” “Hologram”