Dublin-born, and now London-based, Ailbhe Reddy came crashing to the music world’s attention back in 2020 with her critically lauded debut album, Personal History. Three years, a string of festival slots and a lot of exciting press coverage later, Ailbhe is set to return this Friday with her second album, Endless Affair, which comes ahead of her biggest European tour to date.
Endless Affair makes an impact from its very first line, “tell me how did I get here? this endless pitiful affair“. It’s a jumping-off point for the entire near-concept album that follows, a record that traces a linear narrative of working through something, learning to let go and accepting something is over. The musically eclectic album begins in carefree youth, slides into the darkness that can come with various indulgences and comes out the other side into the seriousness of adult life.
The first half of Endless Affair lives in a moment of revelry and excess, opening track Shitshow fuses grungy guitars and clattering drums to a lyrical dissection of bad habits and overindulgence while A Mess is a rambunctious indie floor filler that teeters on the edge of a breakdown, as Ailbhe curses the bad luck of the right person at the wrong time, “we were so young when we met, no wonder it was such a mess”. The depravity comes to a screeching halt on the fantastic, Last To Leave, an Andy Shauf-like musical comedown, that finds Ailbhe’s eyes opening wide as she sees her partner in crime from the other side, “right now, you love this, but tomorrow you’ll feel foolish, embarrassed and hopeless, tell everyone you didn’t mean it”. As the song progresses to a place of pulsing bass and smoky saxophones, Ailbhe begins to recognise the behaviour in herself, spotting the sadness behind the eyes and at the bottom of the bottle, “it doesn’t have to feel broken, just knock back another one, and another one, and another one”.
The record’s turning point comes with Shoulder Blades, the song seems to find Ailbhe leaving the party behind, focusing on more grown-up worries, as relationships and mortality come quickly into focus. Shoulder Blades swaps the night for the dawn, Ailbhe, over a soundtrack of warm Rhodes-piano chords, initially recalling, “how the light hits your face and in the morning on your shoulder blades, in the bed when you turn away, I love to watch you”. That initial serenity is only lost towards the song’s close, as electronic flourishes come to cloud the scene, and that original image of a memory seems to fade to an empty bedded reality, as she repeatedly asks, “where are you now? Back at your parent’s house?”. Elsewhere Good Time is the sound of Ailbhe confronting her flaws, and the flaws of others around her, to a backing of searing guitars and cymbal heavy drum crashes, while You Own The Room is an attempt at re-connection, layering heart-aching vocals and rich piano chords in a way Sharon Van Etten would be proud of.
The record’s emotional apex comes on the penultimate track, Pray For Me, a stripped-back number reminiscent of Laura Marling or Emmy The Great that was written following the passing of Ailbhe’s grandmother, which mixes grief and regret with the sparkle of a life well led, “she says she loves to hear the bird’s sing, it’s what keeps her going, when the day is dying”. After that moment, the closing track Motherhood seems to exist as a vision of what got her here and perhaps where she sees her future, it reflects on the bond between mother and daughter, “our shared history, remembered differently, I am a tributary, you are the sea”. It shines because of its honesty, Ailbhe avoiding the saccharine entirely, as she acknowledges how both strength and weakness are part of every human’s story. Perhaps that is the true message of Endless Affair, a record that knows in life we go through many phases, we play many parts in our own story, and the story of others, we can be cruel and kind, we can party and we can settle down, we can be our best self, and our worst, and it’s all part of being human and this endless affair we call life.
Ahead of the album’s release, Ailbhe took some time to answer my questions, talking about her time making music in the wilds of Donegal, embracing her eclectic taste in songwriting and why making music is all part of “figuring out how people tick”.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who is Ailbhe Reddy?
A singer-songwriter from Dublin, based in London.
FTR: Your new album, Endless Affair is coming very soon, what can you tell me about recording it?
It was recorded in 2021 in Donegal, where I recorded my first album ‘Personal History’. We had a really tightly knit team working on it, Tommy McLaughlin and myself co-produced it. We had James Bryne with us for a few days recording the drums which brought so much life to the recordings, as he always does. We had Sarah Corcoran from Pillow Queens come for a few days to do backing vocals which was really fun. We had my friend Rafino Murphy do trumpet and my friend Ross Hannon doing piano. So it was a gorgeous experience. The studio is in the wilds of Donegal so it’s great to be somewhere we can truly focus with no distractions.
FTR: What did you do differently with this record compared with your debut record?
I co-produced this record so I was a lot more hands on with the sound. I had demoed almost all the songs very precisely by the time we went in to record and we actually kept some of the original recordings I did at home on the record because they were impossible to replicate in studio. There was more of a clear narrative running through this album too, because my debut was made up of songs that spanned a few years, this record had more of a clear concept.
FTR: There’s a real narrative running through Endless Affair, do you consider it a concept album?
I do sort of. It’s very personal but concept is learning to let go, and coming to understand oneself. The first half is about chaos and wildness and parties, the second half is more about relationships and the final two tracks are about the people who ground me.
FTR: I was struck by how eclectic the record is, were you conscious of trying to showcase every aspect of your songwriting?
It’s truly not a conscious effort, but I like having a few different styles going. I think they are all tied together by a consistent sonic palette, but certainly sound quite different. Some songs are quite rocky and heavy, and others are very much soft folk.
FTR: Who were the influences on Endless Affair? What were you listening to when you were writing the album?
Andy Shauf, Courtney Barnett, Julia Jacklin, Big Thief.
FTR: I love the artwork for the album, where did the idea come from?
I had a pinterest board full of old film photos of people’s parties from the 60’s and 70’s. So I wanted something that was staged to look like one of those, where only I was addressing the camera, sort of breaking the 4th wall. I discussed it with Ruth Medjber who took the picture, and she had big ideas to make it happen. She wanted to pack the image full of people which I loved. It was also cool to have so many friends in the artwork!
FTR: Why do you make music?
I love figuring out how people tick. So I guess that’s at the centre of it. Understanding other people and myself.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
It was an open mic night in Dublin in a bar called Mother Reilly’s. I was very nervous!
FTR: What can people expect from the Ailbhe Reddy live show? Do you have plans to tour this album?
I’m starting a US tour of the album next week, centred around SXSW which is where I’ll be when the record comes out.
FTR: What’s next for Ailbhe Reddy?
Touring this album and then recording a third.
Endless Affair is out now via MNRK UK. For more information on Ailbhe Reddy visit http://www.ailbhereddy.com/.