BETH ORTON — Sugaring Season
13 years on from the landmark Central Reservation, KRISSI WEISS feels UK songstress’ latest LP.
It cannot possibly be 13 years since the release of the haunting, hypnotic and Mercury Music Prize-nominated Central Reservation? Can it? Christ, it is, and while grey hairs make cameo appearances on my forehead and the memories of curling up to Feel To Believe and Pass In Time are faded, Orton has reappeared with her fifth studio album in an almost 20-year career sounding as fresh as ever.
Produced by Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists, Spoon), Sugaring Season makes a bold return to acoustic instrumentation and while the production is still a dominant feature, the glitchy, electronic overtones of her earlier work have disappeared. Orton has always focused on rhythm and groove as a backdrop for haunting melodies — a facet of her music that separates her from other folk contemporaries — but this time it is her guitar and piano that set the pulse. Her voice is as strong and emotionally expansive as ever and while her vocal choices on Magpie and Dawn Candles feel like an old friend, she still pulls out some new ideas.
The jazz-infused feel of Something More Beautiful contrasts impeccably with the playfully European waltz of See Through Blue, providing the depth of rhythmic and melodic exploration that is to be expected from someone with Orton’s years of experience. There is always going to be something undeniably “Beth Orton” about everything she does due, in part, to that unmistakable vocal timbre. But where other female folk artists are stuck in a cycle of recycling, Orton is expanding and remaining relevant.
Gone are the electronic textures of yesteryear, with a focus on acoustic instrumentation and organic enhancements through strikingly simple strings, but what remains is Orton’s persistent love of melody, harmony and vocal choices that still rip your heart out.
KRISSI WEISS is a writer, musician, wannabe filmmaker and science student — bores easily. A Rave regular, Krissi also writes about music and the arts for a number of interstate and international publications.