Release Date: May 27, 2016
Record label: Anti
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter
As charismatic in her own understated way as the flashiest rocker, Beth Orton makes albums rarely enough that it’s tempting to view each one as an event, not just another in a series. But Kidsticks feels genuinely special—it’s an exciting reboot and a tantalizing hint that new strategies may be on the horizon, never a bad thing when an artist has been on the job more than two decades. Orton entered the spotlight in the mid-1990s as a standard-bearer of “folktronica” (a term she dislikes, probably for its gimmicky connotations), blending folk and techno on collaborations with the Chemical Brothers and what she considers her first proper solo effort, the captivating Trailer Park.
To those who've ignorantly discarded her as a one-season wonder on the back of 1996's (still excellent) Trailer Park, whisper it quietly: Beth Orton has been continuing to deliver work of significant quality over the past 20 years. 2006's Comfort of Strangers was an overlooked, subtle gem of a record and 2012's Sugaring Season was as intriguing, deep and richly layered as her previous work. And now Orton—who this time uses Fuck Buttons' Andrew Hung as her creative muse—has gone one better with a singularly remarkable album that sets a true benchmark for 2016.
No matter where she is in her career, raw beauty seeps deeply into Beth Orton’s music. Since “She Cries Your Name” made her a household name, the British songwriter has tastefully blended elements of genres like folk and electronica to create an atmosphere of raw emotion, an image whose impact is not felt through the characters but the setting itself. With each passing album, Orton’s hand not only becomes steadier in painting that landscape, but also more confident.
Orton has always been a sociable artist; her back catalogue has seen a host of collaborators (Chemical Brothers, William Orbit, Andrew Weatherall, Jim O’Rourke), lending their talents to frame Orton’s unmistakable folk traveller’s tales. This time, with another dance music stalwart in Fuck Buttons’ Andrew Hung on producing duties, Orton shows no fear in heading into the electronic void, with some of her most eclectic and exciting tracks to date. The clipped percussion clatter and busy buzzing samples of opener Snow bring up Animal Collective at their peak and gives Orton’s husky croon a completely new perspective and measure of the new ground explored here.
Twenty years ago, Beth Orton’s breakthrough Trailer Park correctgently dripped tasteful electronics over folky confessionals. Her latest collection, created in California, dives fearlessly into deeper waters. Although dependent on repetition of small riffs, syllables and phrases, these 10 songs are pleasingly unpredictable, uncoiling languorously around layers of synthetic and organic sounds.
Back in the 1990s, Beth Orton gained a rep as the comedown queen: her folksy music boasted an electronic edge and her involvement with Heavenly’s dance crew – she collaborated with the Chemical Brothers – ensured that her music could serve as a gentle passage back to reality. Since that heyday she has pursued more traditional singer-songwriter territory, but Kidsticks is a real reinvention: not so much a return to her electronic roots as a bold exploration of fresh territory. A collaboration with Fuck Buttons’ Andrew Hung, this sixth solo album embraces inventive rhythm patterns, tsunamis of synth and, on 1973, the metronomic influence of Kraftwerk.
Beth Orton is the best. After studying guitar under the late great Bert Jansch and making the stunning alt-folk record Sugaring Season (2012) with Tucker Martine, she's surprised everyone yet again by turning her sultry voice and razor sharp intuition in a whole new direction, building Kidsticks off beats and keyboard loops she created in a Californian backyard with Fuck Buttons' Andrew Hung. Channelling some of Orton's high school heroes (Kate Bush, Talking Heads, Plastic Letters-era Blondie), Kidsticks is akin to visiting a mellow, experimental dance club with a time-traveling ethereal poet; kinda punk rock, idiosyncratic and organic even as it's awash in keyboards.
Long before “folktronica”, Beth Orton was working with luminaries like Andrew Weatherall, William Orbit and The Chemicals, bringing her distinctive country-folk into after-hours everywhere. Lately she’s tended to a more classicist singer-songwriter sound, but here, with Andrew Hung of Fuck Buttons producing, the beat is very much back. Orton’s voice has a new, androgynous depth, and rides a set of rolling synth-heavy live grooves that are a bit Talking Heads, a bit Krautrock, a bit Kate Bush, a bit Hot Chip, but very fresh too.
Paring down. Stripping back. Unplugging. It’s what a lot of artists do at some point, an alternative to difficult-nth-album syndrome which, with a little luck, will pay off in column inches praising that plaintive, austere new direction: a marked contrast to the usual new-wave-of-nu-rave aesthetic.
More layers than your average onion, frenetic drumbeats, looped to high heaven, reverb-heavy and driven by flickering guitar and synths: Snow is a blistering introduction to what is a blistering return from Beth Orton. This is album number seven, and while the middle three were pleasant (there were moments of real beauty on 2012’s Sugaring Season), they didn’t excite the listener in the manner of Trailer Park or Central Reservation. Now, teaming up with Fuck Button Andrew Hung, it’s easy to remember Orton as the enfant terrible who popped Es into William Orbit’s mouth and produced some of the finest records of the late 90s.
Beth Orton has been considered a singer-songwriter folkie for so long that it can be hard to remember that her career began quite differently. She got her start singing on William Orbit's chillout project Strange Cargo, and she lent her voice to two songs on the Chemical Brothers' Exit Planet Dust, placing her smack in the middle of British pop's volatile post-rave milieu. When her 1996 breakout album, Trailer Park, appeared, it balanced plaintive acoustic guitars and barroom piano with trip-hop beats and atmospheric electronic detailing.
Beth Orton’s new album, Kidsticks, strikes a dynamic balance between the earthly, personal touches of her recent work and the pulsating, electronic flourishes of her early career. Orton co-produced the album – her seventh, and first since 2012’s Sugaring Season – with Fuck Buttons’ Andrew Hung, and the pair crafted the synth-laden foundations of the ten new songs in a garage in Orton's new home of Los Angeles. Orton then spent a year and half smoothing out the edges and refining the arrangements of these layered, intimate numbers (with guest contributions from Grizzy Bear’s Chris Taylor and Twin Shadow’s George Lewis Jr.
“I see a light, ain't it bright? Keeps me up all night”. Not the most revolutionary of lyrical manoeuvres to undertake as the main vocal hook on the track which re-announces you to the listening public at large, but by the time Beth Orton breathily essays the trio of lines in the chorus of 'Moon', all notions of what we might expect from her in 2016 have already been blown summarily, even somewhat rudely, out of the water. Kidsticks falls somewhere between School of Seven Bells at their most plaintive and, conversely, St.
When Beth Orton released Sugaring Season in 2012, she had moved as far as possible from her "folktronica" origins. She'd taken guitar lessons from Bert Jansch, written more formally conventional songs, and used an organic all-star studio band that included Brian Blade, Eyvind Kang, and Rob Burger, with string arrangements by Nico Muhly. Four years on, she's completely re-embraced technology.
Beth Orton's early work was marked by an attempt to reconcile her intimate, more traditional folk-troubadour songwriting style with her inclination toward unnerving electronic flourishes. Her latest effort, Kidsticks, swings the pendulum decidedly toward the electronic side of the spectrum, with a warm, welcoming, synth-driven sonic milieu that results in some of her most immediate pop songs. Despite the album's clear focus, though, it ultimately feels under-developed—thinner and less rewarding than when Orton really digs into the rift between the two genres.
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.
After recording 2012’s folk-leaning Sugaring Season live in the studio with a full band, Beth Orton made a 180-degree creative pivot for her sixth solo album, Kidsticks. Instead of turning to acoustic guitar, the U.K. singer-songwriter first hunkered down in a garage and crafted keyboard loops with co-producer/Fuck Buttons co-founder Andrew Hung. Orton then spent the next 18 months building and sculpting Kidsticks’ songs by adding live musicians and her own production flourishes—the first time she’s delved into the latter arena—and mixing the music with David Wrench (Hot Chip, Caribou).
Since the "folktronica" days of the '90s, when Beth Orton merged acoustic strum with electronic beats, she signaled that she would not be just another introspective singer-songwriter. Along the way she has made some brilliant albums, but the pace has slowed in the past decade. "Kidsticks" (Anti), only her third album since 2006, doesn't sound like a singer-songwriter project at all.
It’s been 20 years since British singer Beth Orton released her beguiling debut, “Trailer Park,” with its haunting, electronica-spiced folk fusion. She followed more of an acoustic path as time went by. “Kidsticks” swings back toward electronica; the problem is that it’s poorly done. It’s the first time she’s written on synthesizers, not guitars, and frankly it’s a mess.