Park the Van
The Irish music scene is absolutely simmering with brilliant talent these days; from Ciaran Lavery, to SOAK, to Rosie Carney – long gone are the days that U2 and The Cranberries were the only exports getting a listen. Dublin’s Ailbhe Reddy brings clear emotional articulation and combines it with a musical modern-folk twist, with alto vocals that alternate easily between snarls and soaring. Reddy was set to debut Personal History at SXSW this March, but COVID forced a change of plans. A compelling follow up to her 2016 debut EP Hollowed Out at Sea, Personal History takes things up a notch – as could be expected given that it was recorded in world-class Attica Audio Studios by Erland Copper and Tommy McLaughlin. Though the release is only a week old, it’s already garnered positive press from multiple sources, and has been playlisted on both RTE and BBC 6. Definitely get your hands on a copy, and give your ears a welcome treat this autumn.
On ‘Failing,’ the album’s first track, Reddy’s voice sounds like she could feasibly be Daughter singer Elena Tonra’s upstart and slightly more self-assured little sister. Hints of Irish great Sinead O’Connor and Sharon Van Etten are evident as well, in terms of the emotional clarity and powerful vocal half-snarl of the chorus (“I’m trying my best to make this make sense, but I’m failing”). Pure earworm and one of my favourites.
‘Loyal’ features Reddy genuinely using her voice as an instrument to accompany the guitars for the first few bars; when the synths kick in the songs switches from folk to indie-pop, and echoes of Angel Olsen are evident. On a similarly pop vein, ‘Between Your Teeth’ feels very 90s Britpop: think The Sundays but edgier and more mature both lyrically and musically. Lyrically, ‘BYT’ is biting in its introspection of humans in relationships – in particular what we say and what we keep – between our teeth – from each other. It’s a song that will grow on you. And after that relationship is over? The inevitable truth that the modern era has made exes impossible to escape, social media being the self-torture device par excellence. In ‘Looking Happy,’ Reddy dives right in to our communal worst habits as she scrolls through her ex’s Instagram noting all the happiness the other party seems to have cultivated in her absence, then (unsuccessfully) pleading with herself: “I can make it stop – just turn it offfffff!” – the social media, def not the song. ‘Time Difference’ is another pop offering, this time a tale about a long-distance relationship. There’s nothing special to discover here, but it is a nice pop interlude.
Another of my favourites from the album is ‘Walk Away’ – a contemplative down-tempo break-up anthem. There is ennui, but its dispassionate, distanced, and perfectly 2020. Here, Reddy is analytical and restrained as she lists what’s wrong with her romantic circumstances, set against the banal backdrop of life. Likewise, ‘Late Bloomer’ is another standout – a detached musing on being in an ill-fitting relationship, mostly with oneself. Once again, there are parallels to Phoebe Bridgers, especially the latter’s single ‘Emotional Motion Sickness.’ Self Improvement is a more guitar-driven offering but that also has an Angel Olsen meets Sharon Van Etten feel in terms of its unblinking introspection.
‘Life Without You’ and title track ‘Personal History’ are more traditional balladesque break up songs – but that still have teeth. The latter has Reddy wail a refrain felt by everyone post-breakup: “I don’t want to go on dates and listen to personal histories…” There is no self-indulgence here, only a vague bitterness and resignation of reality.
Overall, Personal History is a great listen if you’re into modern indie folk – but with teeth, sharp introspection, and a wry sense of humour. Fans of Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten in particular will enjoy Ailbhe Reddy’s latest offering, as will just about anyone who’s lived, loved, and gone on to tell the tale, and muse upon it.