Beth Orton - Kidsticks - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Beth Orton - Kidsticks

by Rob Taylor Rating:9 Release Date:2016-05-27
Going back twenty years, I recall Beth Orton’s harmonically-rich and beautifully modulated voice being an integral part of the post-rave come down. Orton’s silver tones always seemed to me to have a refreshing aloofness about them, cloaked in electronic sound, she seemed to be observing life from a middle distance. I didn’t perceive much intimacy, more an unsentimental but assured matter-of-factness. Anyway, for me Beth Orton’s music was both a perfect respite, and a touch clubby, so my legs could engage in the sort of horizontal shuffling that happened at 6.00am after a night of physical excess.
Kidsticks sees a wonderful and very confident return to that time, the music again cloaked in an assemblage of electronic sounds that cycle between the dynamic and the wistful, the lofty and the sweet-toned. Vocal overdubbing is occasionally used to layer the sound, filling the void between various sorties of electronic sound effects. To give some tracks the requisite clout, like ‘Snow’, some judicious bass thunders over proceedings. Mostly though, the electronics are orchestrated in only a mildly obtrusive way, never mistaking that Kidsticks is essentially a vehicle for Orton’s vocal performance. 
What surprised me, not having acquainted myself with much since Trailer Park and Central Reservation, was Orton’s mature voice soaring well above yesteryear's phlegmatic cool of ‘Stolen Car’ and ‘Central Reservation’. With age it seems that Orton has added dimension to her voice. Not only is there is a warm ambience, but also a sonority which isn’t strained or forced. The cadence of her voice implies relaxation and intimacy, like she’s revealing stuff about herself in real time. Gone is the brooding detachment that I remember from the early days. Maybe, like others, she just stopped popping the Es.
The electronics on Kidsticks interplay perfectly with Orton’s voice, allowing space to emphasise certain phrases, stretching her voice to reveal its full range and capability.  More emotion instilled in her phrasing, and a smokiness and a poignancy that is genuinely arousing, and occasionally touching. On ‘Dawnstar’ the light ambient orchestration is the perfect foil to Orton’s almost Joni Mitchell-like lullaby. A gorgeous folk tale and redolent of the golden age of singer-songwriting; enough in itself for me to apprehend what a class offering Beth Orton has become after all this time. 
Beth Orton’s music deserves re-evaluation. On this evidence, she will continue to evolve for another three decades into a songwriter of some standing, and one of England’s finest.

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