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 StarsBBC2 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 NightBBC4 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 NYCRTE2 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 ShowBBC4 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 Dublin­ersRTE1 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 Uni­verseBBC4 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).