ainslie wills: a masterful songstress, a haunting beauty, a rare slice of musical brilliance. last thursday night at fbi social, we were treated to a performance by this melbourne musician and her band as they launched their debut album you go your way, i’ll go mine (2013). it was killer.
the first support act was local solo performer, pj wolf. a great compliment to the headliners, pj wolf sat calmly on stage as he filled the room with reverbing indie soul pop. the lyrics drew us in, and his electric guitar riffs were never too much. he picked the good notes.
pj wolf’s voice sat over chilling chords and melodies and was endearingly uncontrolled and raw. i liked it a lot. his bluesy track, which spoke of “strange fruit swinging in the southern breeze”, was direct and somber, showing his intelligence as a songwriter and his ability to lyrically paint a scene and question it all at once.
it was unfortunate to hear that pj wolf’s next ep is a while away, but if it’s anything like his new song ‘the leaving kind’ or his set tonight, it will be one to watch out for.
next to put feet and song to stage was elana stone and zebra zap. beginning a cappella with a tambourine, elana stone immediately focused the crowd with an eerie tale. suddenly, on a call of “ho”, beats were dropped and drum pads brought in eclectic samples and the song was surprisingly given new depth and vigor.
having seen this talented lass perform a fair amount this last year (supporting husky, is one quarter of all our exes live in texas and performed at the sofar sounds xmas show in melbourne), on this night i was utterly blown away. not just by her incredible voice and songs (as that knocks me over with awe every time) but by her new infusion of electro beats, super synths and vocal loops. cue zebra zap, her new band.
their set took us through pipe organ synth sounds and fast tori amos vocals on ‘gravity’, past sustained chords and melodies on elana’s trademark accordion, smart and sincere lyrics on ‘not mine anymore’, comments such as “i hope the air-conditioning is being kind to my boobs”, amanual fade-out andlow, fat electronics that complimented a huge vocal range. we then arrived at the launch of their new single ‘sleep doesn’t come easy’, song which was one result of a ’20 songs in 20 days’ project. with 80s tinges, sampled drums and a grand build, it’s a great single.
elana stone has an extraordinary knack of changing her tune to remain fresh, even after years performing. her desire to try out anything and everything shines and she strives off a creative challenge, all the while staying true to herself with her individual flavour powering through.
soon after, ainslie wills and her band laid the stage and out rang ainslie’s gorgeous voice. with haunting and echoing “ohhs” it blended and breathed into an arpeggiated guitar line and into the sorrowful album opener, ‘mary’. that line “i heard what happened to your man, how it wasn’t part of the plan” had even more emotion live and after stripping back to just the kick drum and ainslie, the second chorus built with gorgeous, goose-bump making harmonies.
continuing straight into ‘lemon japan’ with a modest keyboard opening and soothing melodious vocal line the track built toward the chorus with perfectly placed backing vocals, lifting electric guitar and a comfortable drum beat. it was the sudden pull back that reeled us all in, dynamic and varying to keep us on their indie folk rock hook, a feat the band managed to do so well throughout the set.
after some cute banter and introductions, the familiar and funky bass line of ‘wide load’ really kicked the crowd and the band into gear. the vocal layering at the end of the track, “you know what i’m talking about”, was wicked, giving it an intricacy that was still so accessible. with another strong opening with rhythmic and lyrically unique vocals, ‘stop pulling the string’ continued with tribal “ohs”, military snareand ended with wonderful delaying high guitar. just so cool.
the songwriting of ainslie wills andguitarist lawrence folvig (who co-wrote the record) both bewilders and inspires. with roots in jazz studies, the complex harmony and changes are somehow sudden yet smooth, and take you to musical and expressive places you never thought to go. the ringing electric guitars and thoughtful bass lines allow the band to be understated, but polyphonic and large all at the one time. and ainslie’s voice over the top is the rich icing on an already delicious layer cake.
after the high energy ‘i’m your woman’ with folk heavy drum beats, ainslie began the next track ‘liquid paper’ with just her own electric playing muted chords. her vocals “what is it you see in him that keeps you hanging on? you know yourself, you know that it feels wrong”, sang out an insightful truth. a raw and encompassing performance.
to finish off their set the polyrhythms of ‘ocean’ flowed and bellowed and by this stage there was no more convincing needed to believe their incredible talent. the last song of the night was the single that inspired the completion of the album, ‘fighting kind’. one of my favourite songs of last year, the track began with that catchy bass line and cool hand claps. while we all clapped along the melody came in, seeming so different yet fitting perfectly over the bass. with just the right amount of backing vocals the band showed us, once again, that their layering and songwriting are out of this world awesome.
big things await for ainslie wills and co…without a doubt.