Beth Orton "Kidsticks"

At the advent of her career in the 1990s Beth Orton’s music explored the space between heaven and earth, marrying spacey electronic production to folk traditions that emanate from the British Isles. Since then she’s taken excursions into ethereal (Central Reservation), pop (Concrete Sky), and folk (Sugaring Season). Kidsticks is a return to Orton’s jump-off point with songs built on folk structures floating above hypnotic electronic rhythms. It marks Orton’s first foray into producing with assistance from fellow Brit musician Andrew Hung.  

Orton and Hung began laying out the concept for the album and its initial tracks using synthesizers, layering additional instrumentation in segments. This afforded Orton a chance to play with new approaches to songwriting, including learning and using the synthesizer as her main instrument. You can hear the process in the architecture of the songs. Despite having numerous levels of instrumentation and production Orton manages to create sparse emotional space in the songs. Like her music Orton’s voice sits somewhere between ethereal and earthy. Her delivery can be airy, moving delicately between disparate electronic elements, injecting warmth into the precision of the production. It can also anchor songs imbuing them with a sense of purpose and place.

Kidsticks pulsates with rhythm that creates forward momentum, even in the pooling moments of introspection as on “Petals.” Languid guitar chords spaced between beats glimmer for a moment then recede into the building electronic fray.

Orton’s overdubbed vocals create a chorus that dissipates in waves. She shifts gears with “1973” a syncopated pop song about nostalgia. There are lots of spooky moments on the album, and plenty of lovely melodies to sink into. Orton’s mood is  mostly contently confident and happy. She’s created several masterpieces already and this one ranks with the best of them.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)