mon 03/10/2022

Album: Beth Orton - Weather Alive | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Beth Orton - Weather Alive

Album: Beth Orton - Weather Alive

Cracked introspection and grand sweep sonics on a record of memory regained

Beth Orton has never rushed her music. Her first four albums came one every three years, then since 2002 it’s averaged at a five year gap each time. So it’s no wonder also that there can be stylistic schisms from one to the next.

In contrast to its rootsy, bluesy predecessors, her last record, 2016’s Kidsticks, was a clattery, electronic affair co-produced with Andrew Hung of synth noisemongers Fuck Buttons while living in LA. It felt like she was experimenting her way into a new sound that could evolve into a whole new phase of creativity.

But, it turned out, the hyperactive energy of that album was a function of a traumatic time: Orton was suffering serious cognitive illness and seizures, and Kidsticks was the sound of her trying to maintain working momentum while scared and confused. It’s no wonder the next break between records was one of her longer ones, and it’s no wonder this record doesn’t pick up that one’s threads.

This one is infinitely calmer, reflecting so far successful treatment for her medical issues, and perhaps a sense of comfort in having moved back to London with her family. But it’s also wary, a doubtful meditation on memory and passing time – with Orton’s voice, which has always existed on the verge of cracking, more wavering than ever.

Musically, it’s extraordinary. With a jazz-ish rhythm section of Tom Skinner and Tom Herbert, and the occasional high, snaking, Pharaoh Sanders-adjacent sax lines of Alabaster Deplume, plus layers of synth chords and Orton’s own upright piano, there are strong hints of late Talk Talk, of Brian Eno, even of Jon Hassell’s “Fourth World”. At the same time, though, there’s a much more mainstream thread going through it.

Songs like “Friday Night” and “Unwritten” have all that experimental atmospherics to them – but also a kind of transatlantic Celtic romanticism in their slow, constantly resolving refrains, a sound that somehow manages to be Springsteen, U2, Dire Straits, Clannad and Tom Waits all at once. It’s deeply disconcerting, reminiscent of falling asleep next to a radio quietly playing Eighties ballads, which actually adds to the dreamlike atmosphere of the record. This is not a record for all seasons, as its vulnerability and eeriness can make for painful listening in the wrong light. But with autumn coming in, there couldn’t be much of a better soundtrack for pensively staring out of windows to.

@joemuggs

Listen to "Weather Alive":

Orton’s voice, which has always existed on the verge of cracking, is more wavering than ever

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