Art-electropop specialist Lydia Ainsworth made an impression in 2014 with her carefully crafted, stylized debut, Right from Real. Drawing on a variety of influences and incorporating layered vocal samples, acoustic strings, and murky electronic beats, it earned the former film-scoring major comparisons to artists spanning Grimes and, especially vocally, Kate Bush. Following its lead, her follow-up, Darling of the Afterglow, seems to reach across the expanses with still bolder timbres and vocal performances. Instead of the acoustic drums and cello that greet listeners in the opening seconds of her debut, this album opens with forte, distorted electronic pulses, chimes, and processed piano with echoing delay before Ainsworth's spacy, layered vocals enter. She recommits to the eerie soundscape that was a defining characteristic of Right from Real, and nowhere is that more evident than on her creepy transformed version of the album's one cover, Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." She takes the already haunting piece of guitar noir and turns it into a suspenseful piano dirge with verses in the low end of her range and processed backing vocals that, together, put new emphasis on the word "wicked." Much of the rest of the album is danceable, though, if dark, carried by sparse grooves and Ainsworth's lilting lead. Strings are less prevalent on this outing, used mostly alongside synths for increased drama on tunes like "Open Doors" and "Nighttime Watching," an effective exercise in sound design that shuffles, taps, and soars. Elsewhere, a song like "I Can Feel It All" likewise fascinates with timbre but in the context of a funky-sexy seduction. Ainsworth's ornate palette and attention to detail may not attract casual listeners, but those drawn to the icy yet vulnerable strangeness of acts like FKA twigs or certainly Ainsworth's first album will find a rewarding set that expands with repeat plays.
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AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson