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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Luluc’s New Album “Passerby” Simmers Sublimely.

Luluc's Passerby.

Luluc’s Passerby.

It’s taken the indie folk duo of Zoë Randell and Steve Hassett six years to come up with their second album as Luluc. In the interim they signed with Sub Pop, home to Fleet Foxes, Beach House and Wolf Parade as well as, a lifetime ago, Nirvana. And last year they contributed the two best tracks on Way To Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake.

Alt country queen Gillian Welch is a fan, and their new album, Passerby was produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner in New York’s Valhalla borough of Brooklyn.

So we oughtn’t to have been too terribly surprised with the result. Nonetheless, this really is a gorgeous album. Simon and Garfunkel harmonies cloaked in the elegiac melancholia of the aforementioned Drake.

But the figure most clearly evoked throughout is that of Nico. Across the album, Randell’s vocal lines stay unexpectedly flat, only occasionally veering triumphantly up. The results are simultaneously soothing and quietly thrilling.

Nico in La Dolce Vita before joining Reed and Warhol in The Velvet Underground.

Nico in La Dolce Vita before joining Lou Reed and Andy Warhol in The Velvet Underground.

All of which was perfectly captured in the performance they gave of the title track a year and half ago in Dingle for RTE’s mandatory Other Voices here, accompanied by Mr Dessner on keyboards.

Luluc are due to go out on tour with J Mascis, who recently resurrected Dinosaur Jr for their excellent comeback album I Bet On Sky, reviewed earlier here.

That’ll be an interesting combination. In the meantime, have a look at the video for the opening track on their album, Small Window here.

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7 Best TV Programmes for Christmas 2011.

1. Brian Cox’s Night With The Stars – BBC2 9pm, Sun 18th.

With his recent book on Quantum Physics making it abundantly clear that the poster boy of popular science is first and foremost a serious scientist, this one hour special is a wonderful opportunity for him to open up that dizzyingly complex area to the general public.

Anyone lucky enough to have seen either his Wonders of The Solar System, or the subsequent Wonders of The Universe (see below) will know that this the one man capable of making the Quantum universe genuinely exciting and ever so slightly less opaque.

2. The Conformist – Channel4 230am, Monday/Tuesday 19/20th.

A rare chance to see (or at least to record) Bertolucci’s seminal film from 1970. Ostensibly the story of a man who just wants to fit in, and who therefore joins the Italian Fascists in the 1930s, the ordinariness of his wishes are continually undercut by the film’s richly stylised and self-consciously Brechtian portrayal of the world he inhabits.

Hugely influential, the film’s cinematographer Vittorio Storaro was promptly poached by Francis Ford Coppola, for whom he went on to shoot The Godfathers I and II, Apocalypse Now and One From The Heart. Forget the fact that Bertolucci went on to prove himself quite the most over-rated film maker of his generation. Sit back and luxuriate in this opulent style fest.

3. The Art of The Night – BBC4 9pm, Wed 21st.

Waldemar Januszcak, the brilliant art critic for the Sunday Times, has been producing exemplary programmes on art and artists for over 15 years now. Most famously, he and John Richardson produced the peerless Picasso: Magic, Sex and Death, and most recently with The Impressionists (reviewed earlier here). So this one hour special on Rembrandt, Velázquez, Van Gogh and co. is not to be missed.

4. Other Voices NYC – RTE2 805pm, Christmas Day.

The only outlet for alternative music anywhere on Irish television, this (presumably temporary) move from Dingle to New York should play into the show’s strengths, by further highlighting the communal roots that Irish and American music mine and share.

5. The Johnny Cash Christmas Show – BBC4 950pm, Christmas Day.

Johnny Cash joined by Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, The Everly Brothers and of course the Carter family for a 1970 Christmas special. Enough said.

6. For One Night Only – The Dubliners – RTE1 1030pm, Christmas Day.

The 50th anniversary of their coming together, and a celebration of the release of the original line-up’s first three albums. A rare treat.

7. Wonders Of The Universe – BBC4 7pm nightly. Mon 26th-Thu29th.

For anyone who missed it first time around, here’s another chance to see Professor Brian Cox’s pleasingly dense overview of what we now know about the universe, and how we now know it. And don’t be put off by the somewhat ponderous first half hour. From then on in, it’s gloriously detailed and happily science heavy (reviewed earlier here).