Weather Alive (Partisan)
BETH ORTON’S NEW ALBUM OPENS IN LIGHT, in the morning when “All is dawning/In the stillness of the day” and in revelation, as “Mist is rising, jewels aligning/And the shadows fall away”. What she sees lifts the spirits, the beauty such that “It almost makes me wanna cry”, and all the auguries are more than promising, as “The love that we’re giving/Gonna bring us back into being”.
Yet around these lyrics, around all eight songs in truth – though particularly the elegiac opening and closing tracks whose slowly shifting journeys take them beyond seven minutes – the atmosphere is anything but that of clarity.
Weather Alive, Orton’s first release since Kidsticks in 2016, may begin at dawn but it exists in a less defined space: foggier and quieter, its movements incremental, its light muted. There is about everything a haze that suggest someone resisting any nudging into wakefulness, clinging to the strands of whatever dreaming remain. This isn’t a narcotic haze, woozy in its separation or escape from reality; this is a more nebulous condition, holding to an alternate reality maybe.
Does this inspire intrigue and engagement or separation and distraction for a listener? For much of the record I find myself in the latter category, searching more than finding.
While Orton has rarely pursued anything like vigorous drive, even when she was the vocal manifestation of William Orbit’s questing electronica or a counterpart to The Chemical Brothers, and her best moments have stretched out with a gentle elegance that could be confused for slightly awkward hesitancy, she has for the most part avoided abstraction and the indeterminate.
This time though, as producer and artist (and financier of the album after leaving her previous label), she has embraced it: taking her voice back a notch or two into the surrounding sounds which lean attractively into rhythmic modes closer to jazz than pop; smearing her phrasing too, often letting words hit more as sounds; and allowing individual instruments brief moments of sharpness through the low-to-the-ground fog, only to be absorbed once more.
The dreamlike state induced here is almost palpable, a swooning undercurrent tugging you away from solid ground but never setting a definite direction, and taking up time without ever ticking that clock. Indeed, you can lose any sense of length or separation, the breaks between feeling more like a breath been drawn mid-phrase than a track ending or starting.
A comparison that keeps popping up is some of the work of producer Daniel Lanois, but here as if commissioned to help shape an acolyte of Alice Coltrane.
I can see why this could be a seductive experience, letting yourself fall into this spaciousness that feels infinite and a mood which wordlessly comforts, a kind of other world – and lord knows that’s worked for me often enough. But I keep finding myself wanting something to grip, something to un-blur the lines just a little bit.
Maybe this is a timing issue: that is, maybe so far I just haven’t been in the right place at the right time to fully hook in. Or it may be that I am looking for more song on which to drape this atmospheric cloak.
SPOTIFY: Listen to Beth Orton – Weather Alive
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Beth Orton – Weather Alive