When we first heard Beth Orton‘s Moon earlier this year, we admit to being a bit stupefied. Is this the same woman behind fey alt-folk songs like Call Me The Breeze? It seems as Orton gallops further into her career – not far off touching the double-figure album mark – she’s up for a bit of change. To be honest, on the basis of that track, we’re more than up for it too.
With a title like Kidsticks, there does seem like there’d be an element of back-to-basics playfulness on the record (much like her initial emergence with William Orbit), and that’s definitely evident from the opening track Snow. With help from members of Fuck Buttons and Hot Chip, Orton seems to run around this new stomping ground of electronica, sounding fun and free in a way she never has done before. It’s amazing what happens when you put down the acoustic guitar, eh?
There’s also a renewed vigour in her writing too, a sort of powerful acceptance on songs like that initial Moon. “And the moon rises over me as you/ And there’s really not much about that that we can do” she sings over a pulsing beat that almost seems like it’s trying to race her to the finish line. Those tracks certainly set the tone for the rest of the record – Petals echoes with glorious reverbed electronica while Orton plays songbird, and there’s even the introduction a bit of Goldfrapp-style synth on 1973. That’s right: Beth Orton. With synths. And it works.
So is this Orton’s foray into pop? Kind of, but it still feels a bit too left-leaning and at times experimental for it to be the sort of commercial radio fare (Corduroy Legs, for example, is largely melancholic near-spoken word). But it’s still wonderful to see such a startling change in direction from an established artist, taking playful risks that are in sync with her character and having them pay off massively. And at the centre of it all is the woman herself, proud and unflinching. Kidsticks and its stones won’t break your bones, but that voice will still find a way to melt you.