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. They could have focused 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, they could have turned the show on its head, and giv­en three quar­ters of it to Wyvern Lin­go and Maria Kel­ly, and just the 10 min­utes to Pic­ture This and Sigrid, in total.

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.