Personal History demands to be played at a summer music festival, under the searing sun, in a tight crowd where every intricacy of Ailbhe Reddy’s voice can be marvelled at live. Reddy captures the notion of summer in a year where summertime was effectively cancelled. There’s an equal measure of warmth and delicacy courtesy of Reddy’s infatuated lyrics and the bright sonic palette through the album’s ten tracks.
Personal History – the Irish singer-songwriter’s debut album – sees Ailbhe Reddy broaden her scope beyond 2016’s Hollowed Out Sea. The first second of “Failing” steps away from her strictly folk aesthetic and veers into indie rock territory. The guitars carry a little more fuzz without siphoning any of the power away from Reddy’s vocals. A smart move, as Reddy is aware of just how lethal of a vocal talent she is. Her voice is always high in the mix, presenting a confidence that overtakes the instrumentation. She starts with her best foot forward – she soars in the grand chorus of “Failing”, supplying an earworm hook backed with sunny harmonies.
Elsewhere Reddy shows how adeptly she handles sombre pieces. “Walk Away”’s minimal piano and (perhaps a few years too late) hand-clapping beat are carried by Reddy’s delicate musings. She knows when to simmer her voice down yet never allows it to veer away from centre stage. Her faith in her voice imbues Personal History with a confidence found on albums usually released deep into an artist’s career.
In the confines of indie folk/rock Personal History contains enough small variances to reward attentiveness. “Loyal” layers in soft synths to add some weight after the first chorus. On “Life Without You” Reddy employs fingerpicking to give the track some necessary momentum. Yet Reddy seems most in her element on the rambunctious “Looking Happy” and “Time Difference.” The forward propulsion of each song compliments Reddy’s strong alto. “Looking Happy” could point to the future of Ailbhe Reddy, one where she fully commits to a power-pop transition allowing her voice to revel in itself.
Throughout the album Reddy constantly underrates herself; she fails (“I’m trying my best/ To make this make sense/ But I’m failing”), is prone to devotion (“I want you somewhere in my life/ In the corner of my room/ Or under my bed, a box full of you/ That I’ll never lose”), and holds places in her heart for those whose she no longer occupies (“I went to parties with my friends/ Gin and tonics to decompress/ All to care a little less/ But I still cared for you”). She’s a hopeless romantic. And to its benefit Personal History is a romance album, capturing a summer infatuation then reflecting on how things fall apart. It’s melancholic but never apocalyptic. For as much as the album chronicles heartache it ends with Reddy accepting herself, “I spent my twenties, trying to accept these/ Vulnerabilities don’t make me weak”. Reddy is speaking directly to the listener, declaring her strength is in what could be perceived as her weakness. Maybe that’s why Personal History never sounds as dire as it could. Instead of a heartbroken maiden confessing all her shortcomings Reddy plays the role of someone beyond her years, recounting her younger failings and laughing at how silly they make her seem.