Five years before Madonna’s Ray Of Light album made William Orbit the go-to producer du jour, he produced Beth Orton’s first album. A folk singer who initially dabbled heavily in electronica and trip-hop, Orton eventually pulled back from her synthetic side, leaning heavier toward the folk end of her musical spectrum up until her last album, 2012’s Sugaring Season, which fully embraced it. For 2016’s Kidsticks, she goes hard toward the other end of that spectrum. It’s a bit jarring for those not familiar with the foundation of her earlier work, and even for those who are.
Kidsticks isn’t a standard electronica pop record. Its most noticeable element might be how organic it sounds – despite the abundance of keyboards and loops. There’s very little effects added to the music or her vocals, leaving her airy, often delicate voice bare against the musical backdrop that ranges from tribal in Snow to the synth-layered Dawnstar. The contrast is striking in this mixture of authenticity meets synthetic, and with some occasionally juvenile loops added in, it sometimes comes off sounding amateur. Kidsticks might not be a particularly easy album to get into, but it does make for an interesting listen.