Tapping into the universal fears of loneliness, heartbreak and isolation, but filtering them through a deeply personal lens, Ailbhe Reddy’s debut album Personal History is a moving account of an artist who inspires both self-scrutiny and self compassion in the same breath.
The Dublin based alt-folk musician spent three years putting the record together, and the result is a humble, poetic offering that ruminates on her relationships, her mental health and her experience of coming out as a young queer woman.
Filled with lush guitar sounds and showcasing Reddy's sublime vocal range, Personal History embraces the bittersweet nature of life, exposing the genuine sadness behind many of its experiences, but also finding comfort in the idea that we're all struggling in some way. "Failing", the record's opening track epitomises this outlook. It's a self-deprecating but buoyant ode to saving a damaged relationship. "I'm trying my best / to make this make sense," Reddy sings, soothing the sting with catchy "ooos" and a cathartic short chorus of repeated lyric "I'm failing." "Can't you hear yourself in every song that I play?" she asks, blurring the line between the personal and the universal experience, depending on who's listening.
On "Loyal" her beautifully lilting vocals reflect the theme of making space for someone in your life, as the track slowly blossoms into a swirling, full blown guitar tune. Her extrapolations about finding space for honest, open communication are best personified on "Between Your Teeth". Formed of the thoughts Reddy had while travelling on "twisting railway lines," the track is a tentative reflection on the struggle to come out and speak your true feelings in a relationship. Her soft vocals blend with atmospheric guitars to overcome feelings of frustration and sadness, as she paints intimate pictures in her lyrics – “I can’t hide it anymore / Just to hold her / on the bathroom floor / wait til it’s over” – and shifts moods with her delicately timed drop ins.
Carefully arranged, melancholy keys underscore "Walk Away”, which drifts into the exquisitely painful "Life Without You". It’s a poignant extrapolation on trying to move on, and feels like a natural predecessor to “Looking Happy”, which taps into the unexpected FOMO that hits when you’re scrolling through your ex’s newsfeed. "I can't make it stop / just turn it off" Reddy yearns, overwhelmed by the crushing feeling that comes with seeing your ex “enjoying” their life on social media without you. Her buoyant guitar riffs and relatable lyrics dull the ache she sings of, fueled by the knowledge that no-one shares anything other than their “best life” on the internet.
Eponymous track "Personal History" is a one of the most striking, confessional songs on the record. Reddy's willingness to open up, but simultaneously keep something back is a smart and admirable song writing quality, reflected in both her lyricism and her music."I'll grow up and always make the bed / and take care of my own head," she promises, in the hope of securing the “true intimacy” with the partner she sings of. The track patiently builds into an aural headrush, with commanding drums, dizzying guitars riffs and Reddy’s powerful repetition of the relatable lyrics: "I don't wanna go on dates and hear personal histories / I don't wanna share my own / unless it's you listening."
Inspired by the isolation Reddy felt while on tour away from loved ones, the day-dreamy "Time Difference" charms with its drifting guitars and light drum sounds, while the penultimate "Late Bloomer" is a soft, compassionate tune about self acceptance. "We obsess about the future / question nature vs. nurture / but I'm just a late bloomer / you're not backing a loser" Reddy reassures listeners, beautifully encapsulating that patient songwriting technique, taking time to come to terms with what it means to be your true self. This sentiment is expressed further on "Self Improvement". "Off the meds again" she casually remarks, belying the genuine struggles that come with the “unraveling” of mental health that are laced throughout the track. It evolves into a hazy, grunge-tinged drop in with the empowering lyric "I spent my twenties trying to accept these / vulnerabilities don't make me weak." It’s an affecting note to close the record on, but one that will resonate with listeners who have faced a similar struggle.
An artist who finds strength in sensitivity, and who uses space and time to convey her experiences in an intensely moving way, Ailbhe Reddy’s Personal History strikes a genuine emotional chord each time it’s listened to. Her reflections are truly personal, but she does her listeners a kindness by leaving them room to explore their own emotions through her relatable, and resilient lyricism.