Despite being one of Australia’s most criminally underrated artists, Ainslie Wills returns with what might be her strongest and most superbly creative body of work yet: All You Have Is All You Need.
Since releasing her 2010 EP Somebody for Everybody, Ainslie Wills has remained one of Australia’s hidden musical treasures. Her debut album You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine (2013) and follow-up EP Oh the Gold (2015) were released to high critical acclaim, the former garnering a nomination for the Australian Music Prize. In addition to sold out headline shows in Australia and UK, Ainslie has been invited to support the likes of Leon Bridges, Grouplove, Michael Kiwanuka, Tom Chaplin, Lianne La Havas, Hiatus Kaiyote, Vance Joy and Lucy Rose. As well as joining the line up for a wide array of national and international festivals including Splendour In The Grass and The Great Escape in the UK.
If you head over to Ainslie’s triple j unearthed page, you’ll find a cascade of four and five star reviews from almost the entire payroll of the national broadcaster. You’ll also find a long list of praise from national treasures such as Bernard Fanning, Sarah Blasko, Angie McMahon, Clare Bowditch and Big Scary (the list goes on).
With all that high praise from her colleagues and industry professionals, she might be somewhat of a ‘musician’s musician’, but it baffles me that Ainslie Wills isn’t one of this country’s superstar exports. The songs on All You Have Is All You Need are as creatively diverse as Kevin’s and as lyrically bold as Courtney’s.
On an emotional level, this album feels like Ainslie reconciling the first decade of adult life; the hangover from years of questioning. Is this right? Am I doing it right? Is this what you want? Is this what I want? What the fuck is happening now? It’s an overwhelming and flat out exhausting bunch of feelings that most of us know all too well.
So, Ainslie’s message is simple and it’s literally the title: All You Have Is All You Need. It’s is a gentle pat on the back, a lovely little “you’re doing ok, kid” message wrapped in some of the best Australian songwriting I’ve ever heard.
Album opener and APRA song of the year nominee ‘Running Second’ kicks things off with a mantra that will stick throughout the next 10 tracks: “It’s you who puts the pressure on, can’t blame nobody else for that… There’s nothing to prove, you are enough… Just enjoy the view.” The song is a slow burner musically but it drives us into the album beautifully.
Up next is latest single ‘Fear Of Missing Out’. It’s a groove-soaked indie ballad written after a conversation Ainslie had with a friend about motherhood. She felt like she was missing out on being a mother, and the mother felt like she was missing out on independence. In the last chorus the rhythm picks up, it’s tight and urgent like a panic attack, and Ainslie repeats “Why do we think we’re missing out?” It’s a brilliant piece of songwriting; it throws you into that constant push and pull of self-consciousness that everyone struggles with. That feeling that we should be somewhere else. We should be where that person is, or this person is. But we often forget that the people we compare ourselves to feel exactly the same way.
Third track ‘Society’ and APRA song of the year nominee (no, that wasn’t a typo– sensing a theme here?) is one of those songs that sounds like it’s been around for 50 years. Like something from the Janis Joplin or Bob Dylan catalogue. Fed up with all the pressure and bullshit, Ainslie proclaims in her big, bold voice: “I blame it on society trying to tell me who I’m supposed to be.” God, that feels good. Wills has a gift for writing timeless songs, but this one is a timeless anthem.
Album highlight ‘Suzie’ is the sonic representation of how a humid summer day feels; it’s sticky with nostalgia and dark undertones. Ainslie has somehow made her guitar sound like it’s swatting flies. The whole track sounds like how classic Australian cinema looks: powerful, scary, eerie, wondrous. Ainslie almost whispers, “I think I hear a car, don’t let Suzie run ahead.” I get shivers every time. The song melts towards the end in a swirl of synths and vocal harmonies, like an ice cream on a 45 degree day.
Produced alongside longtime collaborator Lawrence Folvig, as well as Matt Redlich (Ball Park Music, Emma Louise) and Jono Steer (Gretta Ray, Hiatus Kaiyote), there are some wonderfully creative production moments on this record. On ‘Won’t You Come Along’ the percussion pitter-patters from ear to ear, circling around a warped, atonal synth that instils a deep sense of sonic dread. ‘Unlock The Vault’ even reminds me at times of DJ Shadow, or U.N.K.L.E.’s first record Psyence Fiction, bringing elements of trip-hop into the mix. The latter half of this album is so hypnotic and ominous.
All You Have Is All You Need is creative enough to make is stand out but not beholden to the production fads of the day that it will make it sound dated in twenty years. And with only ten tracks, this album is succinct without being simple and explorative without getting tiresome. It’s a strong and unfaltering release. It’s music that feels like it has been bolstered to stand up against the elements. Ainslie Wills holds steadfast and in control in the eye of society’s shitstorm and she’s letting us know, with a strong voice and a clear mind, that we can do the same.