Ailbhe Reddy
Personal History



by PanosChris USER (6 Reviews)
February 19th, 2023 | 0 replies

Release Date: 2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Off the meds again, 'til I can’t cope again

The grungy guitar riffs and drums on opener ‘Failing’ aren’t an indication of what’s to follow. You’ll be forgiven to think that this is going to be a bombastic collection of indie-rock songs because of that opening number, but as the album goes on, Irish singer-songwriter Ailbhe Reddy embraces more subdued territory, finding solace in slower, guitar-focused tunes. That’s not always to the album’s benefit, however even the more snail-paced parts of Personal History are saved by Ailbhe’s raw writing and visceral vocal performances.

Despite her voice sounding like a natural fit for slow-building ballads, Personal History’s highlights are found on the tracks where she is backed by a groove. ‘Loyal’ starts out as a sweet guitar-driven ode to being desperately loyal in a relationship despite its shortcomings, before drums and synths introduce themselves after the first chorus. Suddenly, the track takes shape and turns into an indie-rock banger, without losing its initial sweetness and her voice follows this energy with no hesitation. She delivers lines like “So let’s become estranged” and “Under my bed, a box full of you that I’ll never lose” with such volume that you might think her vocals are ready to jump out of the speakers. Her lyrics are as biting as ever (“You talk like a historian / But your evidence is paper-thin”), her performance is stellar and the production is dynamic, making ‘Loyal’ an early highlight. ‘Looking Happy’ is a track about scrolling through your ex’s social media and seeing them enjoying their new life without you, a theme aided by a more grungy indie-rock instrumentation and a more bitter delivery that suits Ailbhe and gives the song the urgency and loneliness it’s trying to capture. “I can’t make it stop / Just turn it off!” she sings on the chorus, pleading with herself to shut her phone off and move on with her life. Lead single ‘Time Difference' is breezy yet groovy, reminiscent of the pop-rock instrumentals found on last year’s Harry’s House. A gentle track about a long-distance relationship where the chorus (“I keep an eye on the time difference / Anything to close the distance / The distance between us”) consists of lovely harmonies and starry guitar notes.

And yet, these energetic moments are the minority. Most of the time, Ailbhe’s performance is accompanied by slower, less gutsy and more tame music. On its own, that’s not a bad thing; her emotive voice can easily carry a ballad and paired with her candid lyricism, the results can be inviting. Look no further than ‘Walk Away’, a spartan piano-led affair that finds Ailbhe on the verge of a breakup, opening and ending the song with the line “Is that all you've got to say / You're leaving?”. Her voice is soft, ethereal — yet it’s almost ready to break on the chorus when she gets to the word “away”. Every aspect of this track works together to create the feeling of imminent heartbreak, as if you can see that the end of the relationship is inevitable and you're powerless to change the outcome. Other musical numbers don’t fare as well, sadly. The following folk-tinged ‘Life Without You’, while vocally impressive and lyrically harrowing, is sonically sluggish and bar an excellent bridge, it’s a drag to listen to in full, a forgettable mid-point on the album. ‘Late Bloomer’ is even more musically anemic, as the dreamy, acoustic guitar-driven backdrop doesn’t really go anywhere and bleeds into the closer 'Self Improvement' without making much of an impression.

But even when the surrounding music is a letdown and not inventive enough, Ailbhe’s refusal to hold anything back lyrically and her soaring voice carry the few missteps found on the tracklist. The aforementioned bridge on ‘Life Without You’ feels like actual heartbreak, Ailbhe’s vocals stacked on top of each other as she sings “Once you shut my car door / We can’t be us anymore”. And the title track, a fairly low-key piece about trying to find new intimacy after being heartbroken features lines that sound like ordinary conversations: “I don't wanna go on dates / And hear personal histories / I don't want to share my own”. Yet throughout these ten songs, Ailbhe does exactly that. She shares her own personal history. One of trying her best to keep her relationship intact. One of heartbreak in the age of the Internet. One of struggling to detach herself from the past. One of a shattered heart that is inching forward into self-improvement. We don’t witness a full rebirth by the end of the album, but that’s okay. Healing and practicing self-love and self-betterment are fueled by time and patience. Until then, this is a personal history worth hearing out.

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