Kidsticks is a bit of an anomaly in Beth Orton’s discography. Partially a throwback to her early work with William Orbit and in other ways its own beast entirely, Orton takes this opportunity to throw herself into the world of electronic music, with assistance from Andrew Hung of Fuck Buttons, shedding the acoustic folk stylings of Sugaring Season and a vast majority of her discography and experimenting in a radical way. While it’s not an easy thing to wrap your head around at first glance, there’s a sense of depth to this album that warrants further listening.
Kidsticks has its tracklist arranged in such a way that it feels like a bit of a descent from the extreme to the familiar. Opening track Snow is a chaotic collection of styles, mixing funky beats and Orton’s varied vocal styles, from warbling to chanting, into a psychedelic cacophony of elements that ties together the more you listen to it. The electronic wave continues over the next few albums, with Petals taking the psychedelic edge and running with it as it reaches its bridge, before settling into funky synthpop on 1973; the album’s sudden drop into pop is almost as jarring as the initial reaction to Snow, but is also a blessing as the first easily accessible song on the album.
The album’s descent into familiarity, however, begins with Dawnstar. The soothing mixture of electronic melodies and a more natural percussive beat bring back to mind the fusion of folk and electronic music, which continues as the main theme throughout the album’s second half. Even on the latter half’s token experimental track, Corduroy Legs, the fusion is apparent; the song is a random collection of percussive sounds and piano, with electronics running on top to create a morphing soundscape for Orton’s spoken word poetry that runs over the top. The second half of the album isn’t quite as attention-grabbing as the first, and does begin to feel somewhat unnecessary as the first half begins to make more sense, but will potentially be easier to appreciate than the first half for long-term fans.
Kidsticks is an interesting experiment in sound and genre. It’s not always successful, with Corduroy Legs being the track that stands out as hard to crack even after extended dedication, but it presents an interesting take on Orton’s music that shows that she’s entirely okay with the idea of stepping out and doing something unexpected. Kidsticks is not an album for everyone, even Orton’s own fans, but those intrigued by something interesting and experimental may find something to truly enjoy here.