Beth Orton (photo by Tierney Gearon, PR)
When Beth Orton first emerged in the early '90s, she fit neatly into electronica via collaborations with composer and producer William Orbit, as well as the Chemical Brothers and Red Snapper. Orton's first album, 1993’s Superpinkymandy (issued only in Japan) was produced by Orbit, who four years later worked with Madonna on Ray of Light.
But Orton regards her true solo debut to be 1996's Trailer Park, her breakthrough album. For that record, she adopted a modern folk-inspired slant, embellished with electronic beats. As the years progressed, via albums like 2006's Comfort of Strangers and 2012's Sugaring Season, those electronic textures found less of a place in her work.
Kidsticks, her first album since Sugaring Season, is a way for Orton to revisit her roots, take her music forward, and redefine who she is as an artist. The album is largely a collaboration with Andrew Hung of the electronic duo, F**k Buttons. Orton and Hung composed all of the music and produced the album together. They are also the two primary musicians on Kidsticks, with Orton playing keyboards and synthesizers and Hung handling drum programming and synth engineering. The other musicians who contribute to the album include guitarist George Lewis, Jr., better known as Twin Shadow, and Grizzly Bear's bassist Chris Taylor.
The genesis of Kidsticks came when Orton experimented with electronic loops of music. From there, she fully committed to a style that might have sounded like a complete departure, but was a natural progression for an artist who began in electronica. The vibe of Los Angeles, where Orton and her family now live and where the album was made, casually seeped into the songs on Kidsticks. “Snow,” which showcases tribal rhythms and angular guitar interjections, is part of a cerebral trilogy with “Moon” and “Petals." The playful “1973” is techno pop that lightens the mood while “Dawnstar” is an exquisite soundscape which pairs nicely with the sweet melody that can be heard on another track, “Flesh And Blood.” Orton’s spoken words drift behind a veil of blissed out synths and crystalline keyboards on “Corduroy Legs.”
The openness of the songs and looseness of the melodies on Kidsticks enables Orton to experiment with her vocals in ways that feel different than her earlier albums. It’s a new dynamic for her and she explores it with vigor.
Kidsticks widens the scope of Orton’s music. It is a work that acknowledges electronica as a significant element of her complete artistic character. By redefining herself, she has opened up new possibilities and fresh anticipation for where she might go next.