Beth Orton: Kidsticks

Photo: Tierney Gearon

British songwriter Beth Orton stretches to the heavens on her latest album.

Beth Orton


Label: Anti-
US Release Date: 2016-05-27
UK Release Date: 2016-05-27

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. This is apparent with her latest album, Kidsticks, which depicts a grand universal backdrop while retaining the same intimacy and personality that fans have come to expect from the veteran songwriter.

It’s a tough balance to strike; yet Orton still finds a way for the ten-track album to go off without a hitch, and it’s mainly because of her methodology in structuring her songs. The ethereal soundscapes, tribal rhythms, flutes, and light synths are intriguing on their own, but the British songwriter is not content with superficial elegance. Instead, she fastens her lyrics—pertaining mostly to themes of identity, relationships, and nature—onto the winding flutes and hollow yet effective percussion at just the right moments to establish symbiosis between lyrics and instrumentation. In a light falsetto over a sparse, quirky electronic beat, she sings “Swimming in my mind in my electric mind” on the album’s single “1973”. On “Dawnstar”, synths that mimic the noise of a shooting star in an empty sky ring out as Orton poignantly notes, “We’re a long far way from somewhere we have ever been.” Even on “Corduroy Legs”, a song whose instrumentation carries enough meaning on its own, she accentuates the intimate flutes, strings, and shakers by stating that her friend’s hands “holds me holding you.” It’s one thing to have good instrumentation or well-written lyrics, but Orton takes both into consideration at the same time, and the result is both beautiful and heavenly.

Besides her high-register soprano, Orton also contrasts the grandiose soundscapes in this album with localized acoustic and tribal instrumentation. Opener “Snow” balances the electronic beat with some raw percussion, while songs like “Falling” bring in keys that both add to the quirkiness of the track and give it a human quality that it might have not had otherwise. On the other hand, though, “Falling” and “Flesh and Bone” sometimes don’t have enough acoustic instruments, or—if they do—they fail to add the sense of closeness that they were supposed to create.

However, for the most part, Beth Orton is a master of folktronica, evolving as an artist right alongside the genre itself. As newer and more sophisticated technology has transported modern electronic music to heights that the genre’s forefathers could never have imagined, Orton has worked them into her music without sacrificing her musical thumbprint in the process. Her synths line up perfectly with the soaring flutes, the eccentric electronic bass line on “Falling” matches up perfectly with the keys. Like a world-class baker, her measurements of electronic and folk are so precise that the resulting cake is one that has few lumps or burned sides. Even on the spots that are blemished, the imperfection is so difficult to notice that it might as well have not been there at all.

Throughout this review, an assortment of adjectives have been used to describe Kidsticks, and while they accomplish their intended aim, they also leave many nuances and sentiments out of the picture as well. The wonderful thing about this album is that no matter how often one goes back to it, there is always some new galaxy to discover, a new planet to visit, a new rock to look under. Orton’s music lends itself to revisiting not only because she makes well-written, polished songs, but because the possible roads that lead to Kidsticks' universe are endless. There is no road less traveled for Beth Orton; each is new, making every trip as unique and fruitful as its predecessors and eventual successors.






Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone can undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".


Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."


'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.