Beth Orton

Beth Orton - KidsticksAnti-Kidsticks is a return to form for English singer/songwriter Beth Orton. After a couple of folk records,.

Beth Orton – Kidsticks

Kidsticks is a return to form for English singer/songwriter Beth Orton. After a couple of folk records, her sixth album is closer to the “folktronica” sound that defined the beginning of her career. Produced by Fuck Buttons’ Andrew Hung, it’s decidedly more electronic than folk.

After two run-of-the-mill dance tunes, the wide-open expanse of bubbling ambience on third track Petals is the album’s first powerful moment. Orton’s poetry floats into a crashing, frenetic crescendo as she repeats, “My tears well up and cry for you.” The song is unexpectedly followed by an 80s-inspired toe-tapping synth-pop tune, 1973. The juxtaposition works, though, and the rest of the record walks the line between pseudo-experimental folk and electronic arrangements and expansive pop sensibilities that seem to draw from her groundbreaking early work and a relocation to the Golden State.

Both approaches work half the time. On the pop side, Wave is a soft-pop meander, but Falling is a heavenly chill-out, its calm vibrations betraying its sadness. “My phone book is filling up with dead friends,” Orton sings, “and I wonder who would answer if I called them.” On the less conventional side, Dawnstar’s dreamy spaciness recalls lit-up night-sky grandeur, swelling to a sparkling climax that finds Orton in a more positive mood, singing, “Love is all we need/Love is gaining speed.” But Corduroy Legs, frustratingly overloaded with goofy sounds that drown out her spoken-word delivery, feels like a half-baked experiment.

However, the two styles meet on Flesh And Blood, to glorious results. Over a breathtaking baroque-pop arrangement reminiscent of 2005-era Broken Social Scene, Orton plays with infectious, drifting and unchained melodies, settling into a groove as the music flows effortlessly around her.

Kidsticks’s risk-taking, while not always on point, proves Orton capable of reinvention. She’s still a voice worth listening to.

Top track: Flesh And Blood

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