The State We’re In

I’ve taken this title from a track Beth Orton did with The Chemical Brothers on their album “Come With Us“. A fine song which had the lovely Beth lending her wondrous vocals to an electronic creation that fizzed and spluttered into the next track “Denmark” which built to become a pounding, helplessly energetic and thoroughly storming tune (whose Latino infused trumpets had little to do with Denmark but what the heck, it was great fun when they kicked in). I thought about the track the other day whilst trying, for what must be the eighth or ninth time, to get into Beth’s latest album “The Comfort of Strangers” and once again not finding what I’m looking for. When Beth first appeared on the scene back in 1996 her sound was founded by the fusing of a lot of arguably disparate genres and it sounded fantastic and everyone discovered what they had been missing all their lives. The folk music blended with electronica and other studio wizardry was unexpected and profoundly exciting. At the time I was also enjoying other bands who were emerging such as Portishead and loving the metamorphosis that Everything But The Girl were going through when they abandoned their reliance on the acoustic guitar and got on with experimenting with their sound. Ten years later things are very much back to a narrower palette of sounds. Beth Orton switches labels and puts out a folk album that’s just a folk album – the songs are still well written and her voice is as lovely but the album as a whole feels flat. I doubt I’d have bought this if it were a debut and there’s certainly no room on the singles for a lively or interesting remix or collaboration; it’s almost as if she has been put on a short lead in response to the current market. Lou Rhodes formerly of Lamb records a solo album that’s stripped down and devoid of any of Andy Barlow’s electrical influences and a far cry from her work with 808 State. This year’s Mercury Music list is utterly devoid of any artists who embrace any sort of cross over sound (no Helicopter Girls; no Martina Topley-Birds) and go in favour of a no frills guitar-based feel. These days that KT Tunstall sound is where it’s at (even Dido dabbled with some interesting production on her first album!). Can anyone explain what’s brought about this distinctly regressive step??

5 thoughts on “The State We’re In”

  1. The world has gone lo-fi … it’s all about quiet, simplistic sounds.

    Plus there’s only so long an artist can continually pump out original, groundbreaking material.

  2. Just to clarify; I’m not trying to say that lo-fi and simplistic is bad or even inferior but why is it the only thing around at the moment? I see what you’re saying about an artist’s creative talents being exhausted. It’s usually a worrysome sign when an artist puts out a Best Of, isn’t it?

  3. Or maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting old! What I’m really talking about is today’s music being rubbish. Aaaaarghhhh!!

  4. Not really an answer to your question, but I rather enjoy the production on “The Comfort of Strangers.” It’s done by Jim O’Rourke, who played bass with Sonic Youth for a while, and worked on a couple of Wilco albums. I recently got my hands on one of his solo albums, “Insignificance,” which contains one of the best songs I’ve heard this year.

    A lot of the time his mixes sound purposefully muted. I really like the way he seems to flatten the sound of the drums. It’s a subtle production job.

    The experimentalism you’re after is out there, but maybe the artists you habitually listen to are trying other things right now. I’ll try to find some links to stuff…

  5. But “…trying other things…” is experimentalism, surely? Unless you mean they are trying other things that aren’t music. I just worry that the only real reason these people aren’t doing anything is because the mass market has gone very conservative all of a sudden. Beth’s album could have been recorded thirty years ago and would sound no different but then maybe that’s what she was going for (if so thousands of other people are already doing this – maybe she’s just trying to please herself these days). Since Sonic Youth helped to invent the grunge scene in the US, can we expect Beth to persue this?

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