With 2012’s ‘Sugaring Season’, Beth Orton seemed to have found a folk niche in which to settle, having toyed with stopping altogether. The pastoral subtlety to those songs naturally suited her distinctive vocals and it all felt a very long way from ‘Trailer Park’, the 1996 album that put her on the map. Having moved to California and found the guitar rather less enchanting than it had been of late, a change was needed. While this is no throwback to two decades ago, the lineage is there for all to see.
It’s a particularly atmospheric record, which should perhaps be expected as it was co-produced with Andrew Hung of Fuck Buttons and mixed by David Wrench, who has a quite remarkable strike rate when it comes to being involved in beautiful music. Pulled together over time, with loops worked on in the presence of her family and friends, ‘Kidsticks’ has an effortless quality to it that is woozily endearing.
‘Moon’ has a killer bassline and a slightly awkward lyric, the former thankfully outdoing the latter. ‘Petals’ whirls around enigmatically before the drums thunder in barely ninety seconds from its conclusion, triggering a pile up of sound that edges towards a fuzzy crescendo. ‘1973’ is a shimmering pop beast, driving bass, synth stabs and neat little breakdowns all combining to glorious effect.
‘Wave’, with its tale of love that comes into being without the penny dropping - “I was crying out to you before I ever knew” – is another piece where multiple parts coalesce infectiously. ‘Dawnstar’ is a spaced out nod to romance, the line “our love is gaining speed” repeated above a crawling, subterranean beat. ‘Falling’ is one of the more straightforward tracks here, gradually building to a stately conclusion of warm melody, while ‘Flesh and Blood’ triumphs with meticulous details floating across the soundstage.
From the layers of vocal fragments on opening track ‘Snow’ to the muttered spoken word reflections of ‘Corduroy Legs’ buried deep below a shimmering collage, it is an album marking out its own territory rather than trying to conform to expectations. That it finishes with the title track’s seventy-eight seconds of innocent, playful noise is entirely fitting for a record that makes little attempt to tick any boxes. It is the very definition of a grower, simply because there are so many little things going on in stark contrast to her elegantly sparse previous release.
Words: Gareth James
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