What’s happened to RTE’s Other Voices?

St. James church in Dingle, co. Kerry.

What’s going on with the once great Other Voices? The first episode in this the 16th season began exactly as you would have expected, with BBC Radio 1 dj Annie Mac delivering an intro promising music from the likes of Perfume Genius (reviewed earlier here) and Django Django, with reports and footage from festivals in Berlin, Belfast and at the Electric Picnic.

The usual heady mix then of left of field, broadly indie fare mixed with the best in Irish music, and all set against the picture postcard-perfect backdrop of a church in Dingle. But that intro, it transpired, was for the series, not for the episode at hand which was considerably less auspicious.

Ibeyi, from Paris via Cuba.

First up were Picture This, who hail from Athy. If you’ve ever passed through Athy, you’ll know that at its centre sits Shaws, the drapers where every local mother brings her son and daughter to get fitted out for their first holy communion, conformation and debs. And which famously ran an ad declaring, gloriously, “Shaws, almost nationwide!” Which is all the more delightful in its refusal of the obviously correct “nearly nationwide”.

Had it been penned by a beard in Williamsburg it would quite rightly have been hailed as a brilliantly biting deconstruction of what advertising copy is supposed to do. Let’s just assume that’s exactly what was intended by whoever came up with it here. Well, Picture This sound exactly what you’d expect a band from Athy to sound like.

Wyvern Lingo.

Next up were a couple of numbers from Sigrid, an oh so earnest Swedish would-be teen queen whose dreary synth pop is obviously going down a storm with the pre-tweens, and who was clearly as surprised to find herself on stage singing as we were to see here performing on it. No doubt she’ll have a host of hilarious stories to tell her class mates once she goes back to college to finish her degree in architecture or interior design, before settling down to bring up her kids.

After the break we had a couple of songs from Wyvern Lingo, a genuinely compelling trio from Bray who set their mellifluous melodies to glitchy indietronica, very much in the mode of Sylvan Esso – who themselves are made up of one part of Mountain Man, who Wyvern Lingo were compared to when they started out.

Katie Kim performs at the RTE Choice Music Prize 2016, by Kieran Frost

After that, we were given a haunting performance from singer songwriter Maria Kelly, and it looked as if the programme was back on track. But immediately after that it was up to Belfast, and who did they find to record there? Only Picture This. And, sure enough, after Belfast it was back to Dingle we were treated to no fewer than four further tracks from Athy’s finest, and another three from Sigrid, the very much not Stina Nordenstam.

So three quarters of the programme was devoted to a pair of young-fogey, pub-rockers from the midlands, and the least threatening Swedish chanteuse you’ll ever hear.

There’s nothing wrong with devoting three quarters of your programme to just two acts, so long as the acts in question merit that attention. If the focus had been on, say, Katie Kim (reviewed here), Lisa Hannigan, Brigid Mae Power or Rejji Snow from these shores, or, from further afield, on the likes of Cigarettes After Sex, Ibeyi (reviewed here) or Car Seat Headrest (reviewed here). Or, most obviously of all, if they’d turned the show on its head, and given three quarters of it to Wyvern Lingo and Maria Kelly, and just the 20 minutes to Picture This and Sigrid.

Car Seat Headrest’s brilliant Teens of Denial.

There’s nothing wrong with Picture This, but their debut album went to number 1 here (and there’s a prize of a Curly Wurly and a sherbet dip for anyone who can correctly guess what they called it), and there are any number of outlets where they play that sort MOR music wall to wall, night and day. The whole point about Other Voices is that the music it gives voice to is supposed to be precisely that, other.

Here’s the video for Wyvern Lingo’s Out of My Hands and the video for I Love You, Sadie also from Wyvern Lingo.

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“Salt”, the latest album from Katie Kim.

Katie Kin's Salt.

Katie Kin’s Salt.

In a parallel universe somewhere it was Cristina who was catapulted to stardom in the 1980s, while Madonna continues to wait tables somewhere in Williamsburg. There, Katie Kim’s records sell by the truckload.

Few things delineate us more distinctively than those secret discoveries we make in the worlds of music, books, film and television. But if any of those discoveries suddenly enjoy unexpected commercial success, we become deeply suspicious of them. Nothing contaminates art quite as irredeemably as popular acclaim.

All of which makes Katie Kim the most alluring artist working anywhere on these isles. Her latest album Salt came out last autumn, and so unheralded was its release that it completely passed me by.

Doll in a box, Cristina.

Doll in a box, Cristina.

I had first come across her in 2011 when I saw her perform at the event curated by Donal Dineen at Dublin Contemporary. And when her second album, Cover and Flood, came out later that year, I had no hesitation in declaring it the album of the year, not withstanding what a stellar year 2011 was music-wise, which I reviewed earlier here,

So I had been eagerly awaiting her new album ever since, but somehow I still managed to miss it when it came out last autumn. I only heard of its arrival when it was nominated for the Choice Music Album of the year award. And although of course I’m delighted that the prize eventually went to Rusangano Family, few artists would have merited that boost to their career that winning an award like that would have given her than Kim.


Limerick's Rusangano Family.

Limerick’s Rusangano Family.

Salt is a more compact and cohesive affair than her previous couple of records, but the atmosphere it evokes and the feel of the album are familiar. We’re in 4AD territory here. And if it never gets quite as primal, guitar wise, as it does on a Cocteau Twins record, there’s no mistaking the terrain.

Think Stina Nordenstam recording an album for 4AD with some of the Dead Can Dance crew providing production duties. There’s an ethereal vulnerability to the vocals that’s bolstered by the heft and propulsion produced by the layers of sound that surround and give weight to the melodies.

Katie Kim's Cover and Flood.

Katie Kim’s Cover and Flood.

The result is a wonderfully dark album that you want to hear at four o’clock in the morning, but with the volume turned up loud.

Secrets are wonderful, but it’s pointless if you’ve literally no one to share them with. So for goodness sake go and buy this album. I need somebody else to talk to about it.

You can see the video for the track Ghosts here.

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5 Best Albums of 2012.

first-aid-kit-lions-roar5. First Aid Kit, The Lion’s Roar. The second album from Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, barely into their 20s, arrived at the beginning of the year. Reviewed by me earlier here, it’s a pitch-perfect concoction of dreamy Americana, draped, carefully, in the cloak of melancholia.

4. Metz, Metz. The talk of the town at this year’s CMJ – see my review earlier here – the trio from Toronto produce a torrent of visceral noise fuelled by the adrenalin of undiluted but carefully channeled youth.

Soar3. Dexys, One Day I’m Going To Soar. News that Kevin Rowland and Dexys were about to resurface with a new album and an accompanying tour was met, understandably, with skepticism and trepidation. Remarkably, as I reported earlier here, both were a minor sensation. A glorious and painfully honest album that continues to glow.

2. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange. In an ever so slightly disappointing year, this is the one album on everyone’s end of year list. Reviewed by me earlier here, this is as lyrically complex as it is musically sophisticated. And its genre-hopping confidence suggests that an heir to the regal Prince might finally have emerged.

Katie Kim "Cover & FLood"1. Katie Kim, Cover & Flood. When this album came out last February it somewhat slipped under the radar. Which is most unfair as, as I wrote in my earlier review here, Katie Kim pulls off the significant feat of being as remarkable in the studio as she is on stage. And this, her second album, is a hauntingly evocative work that conjures up an impressively moody dreamscape.

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Katie Kim’s “Cover & Flood”, a Serious Album from a Proper Musician.

Katie Kim "Cover & FLood"The wonderfully evocative “Heavy Lighting” (here), which now appears as track 7 on Katie Kim’s second album Cover & Flood, was released as a split single last year together with a Laura Sheeran track. They both performed on the same set at the excellent pop-up event curated by Donal Dineen at last year’s Dublin Contemporary, which I reviewed here earlier.

Sheeran and Kim are part of that new breed of musicians who begin by making use of this dizzying digital revolution that we are all in the midst of to produce impressively finished music from their bedrooms, using little more than a laptop and whatever instruments they happen to have to hand.

When they then begin to perform on stage, they are forced to use the few tools that they are able to carry themselves onto stage in increasingly complex ways, as they are faced with the reality of trying to hold onto an audience’s attention with extraordinary limited resources.

What tends to result is that they learn to produce increasingly involved layers of sound by distorting their voice and instruments, both electronically and digitally, to draw the audience in through what becomes a form of ritual, rhythmic hypnosis.

The problem is, that it’s far from simple to re-translate that sound back onto disc once they return to the studio. What was captivating on stage, can often sound a little dull and repetitive, a tad samey.

So it’s hugely gratifying to be able to report that as hypnotic as she is on stage, Katie Kim is every bit as alluring now that she’s returned to the recording studio in between all that inevitable touring. And impressively, despite being apparently produced in her bedroom, her second album is an even more expansive and confident affair than her first, Twelve, from 2008.

If the sound she produces live can best be referenced by Coco Rosie and Mazzy Star, on disc it’s a slightly more measured affair. A little less primal perhaps, but more panoramic in its stead, and a lot more ambitious in its scope.

There is some distortion and feedback, but on many of the tracks you get the quieter more nuanced sound of Stina Nordenstam, or Joanna Newsom, but without the latter’s angst or sense of struggle. Whilst a track like “Dummer” has clear echoes of Julianna Barwick, reviewed here earlier, with those waves of sound that wash over you and draw you so pleasurably into their depths.

This is a serious album from a proper musician producing a complex, eclectic and singular sound. If there’s a better, more accomplished album produced in Ireland this year, I shall be very surprised indeed.

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