After All the Work
Self-analysis is arguably present in all songwriting, but for Ailbhe Reddy’s debut LP Personal History, it is the backbone. Following a year spent studying psychotherapy, Reddy has released an accomplished collection of songs exploring heartbreak, self-reflection, failure and loyalty, supported by a sound both fuller and richer than anything she has released previously.
It is an album that runs well with its concept – the confusing and often agonising period of growth that happens in our twenties, as well the gruelling work done both in and out of therapy. Reddy’s songwriting has the capacity to both bring back memories pouring over pop-psychology self-help books, as well as the encouragement of a friend who tells you you’re doing fine under the circumstances. ‘I protect my ego’ she sings on ‘Between Your Teeth’, as well as being ‘off the meds again’ on the album’s closing track. Love and relationships are intertwined with therapeutic concepts in a voice that is at once empathetic and biting: ‘I spent my twenties / trying to accept these / vulnerabilities don’t make me weak’.
Sonically, there’s a balance here between a bright, full-band sound and more guitar and vocal-focused folk. She’s comfortable in both arenas – the radio-friendly indie-pop ‘Looking Happy’ is a standout track that caustically examines time spent cyber-stalking an ex, and the intense feelings of inadequacy imposed by social media. ‘Between your Teeth’ is another pop-infused indie track that evokes the likes of Julia Jacklin, and the vocal inflections of Dolores O’Riordan. These songs are fun, in fact they’re often funny, livened by the kind of dark humour of experience.
‘Personal History’, the title track, is another standout. Lyrically, it contrasts the domestic space of a lived-in relationship with the horrors of starting again with someone new. ‘Let’s fall into a routine’ she sings in gentle tones, ‘the romance of watching TV’. By the final third of the song, her voice takes a turn from the gentle to something more anthemic and powerful. Softer moments on the album work well too; ‘Life without you’ is spacious, allowing her vocal harmonies to shine over a plucked electric guitar.
There’s a great closer here in ‘Self Improvement’, which hits upon a more holistic idea of self-improvement – the idea of putting the work in, and the triumphs of accepting vulnerability, asking for help and admitting that we don’t have all the answers. It’s a comforting note to end the album on, the idea that after all of this self-reflection – often painful, confusing and difficult – that brighter days are ahead. Where it begins quite intimately, with vocal harmonies swirling around gentle guitar strumming, the kick in of distorted guitars and drums for the anthemic final third is quite a satisfying, almost cinematic, close to this era of her own personal history. As a debut, it delivers brilliantly in introducing Reddy’s dynamic songwriting, comfortably positioned alongside some of the best independent songwriters and bands that Ireland is offering today.
To purchase Personal History, visit: https://ailbhereddy.bandcamp.com/
Published on 29 October 2020
Andrea Cleary is a freelance music and culture writer based in Dublin.