Boomkat Product Review:
Beth Gibbons' first proper solo album has been worth the long wait. A chilly, profound set of dreamy folk-exotica incantations, it's a rare record that confronts the anxiety and pain of adulthood, dissecting knotty emotions in a flutter of taut instrumentation and smoky, sample-ready cinematics. Breathtaking gear, produced by Gibbons in collaboration with James Ford and Talk Talk's Lee Harris.
Gibbons has held off until just the right moment to assemble her perfectly crafted formal debut. We've heard her songwriting before of course, not just on Portishead's immaculate trilogy of albums, but on 2002's 'Out of Season' and its followup 'Acoustic Sunlight', both collaborations with Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb (aka Rustin Mann). 'Lives Outgrown' extends her technique a little; her previous collaborations hang in the shadows, but this album is unapologetically intimate, wrapping tales of love, regret and disquiet in muted, melancholy extravagance. Not as ostensively dusty as the Portishead material, or as sinewy as her records with Webb, it's a bruised, pensive set of vulnerable reflections backed by music that nudges gentle, archaic folk, early jazz, '70s exotica and somber post-rock. It's the kind of gear that Gibbons has been teasing her entire career, so much so that it seems familiar; the songs have a lived-in quality not because they've been cloned from other material, but because they're the fully-realised versions of cogitations Gibbons has been mulling over for decades.
The album's advance single 'Floating on a Moment' is a logical place to start. Gibbons' voice sounds more exposed than ever; the simmering, Nina Simone-influenced sorrowfulness that shepherded Portishead to cult status is still there, but augmented by experience, anguish and grief. Her production is similarly poised: thick jazzy basslines bolster feathery, rattling drums, while the silvered, widescreen qualities that buoyed her previous material have evolved into subtle chorals, twanging strings and quieted xylophones - more Jean-Claude Vannier than Ennio Morricone. "Love changes things," she assures on 'Lost Changes', absorbing a cunning alt-country shimmer at first, before epic orchestral strings emphasize the overwhelming melodrama. In the background, there's more going on than initially meets the eye - slow, hard-swung drums are filled out by smart avant nods like squeaking metal plates and unstable oscillator drones. On the surface it's pop music, but crack the topsoil and Gibbons' deeper influences and inspirations stretch out like a mass of tangled roots.
'Reaching Out' is even more wrinkled; Gibbons' upper range initially recalls Thom Yorke, but she doubles the tempo, crying painfully over Northern Soul-bass 'n' drum thuds and brassy fanfares. "I need your love, to silence all my shame," she echoes, while ghostly traces wheeze, whine and spiral in the background. If the early Portishead material took its cues from the sampledelic bombast of Public Enemy in their prime, 'Lives Outgrown' owes more to RZA's eerie minimalism, all swooping strings and cryptic, off-kilter asides. Just check 'Reaching Out', a haunted folk drizzler punctuated with bone-rattling far Eastern percussive smacks, vocal loops and swirling string phrases. Meanwhile, on 'Beyond the Sun' and 'Rewind', Gibbons grazes North Africa and East Asia, stirring her fragile vocals into a locrian roll of reed blasts, tinny string plucks and angular strings.
On the album's pastoral closer, 'Whispering Love', she's home; "Leaves of our tree of life, where the summer sun always shines through the trees of wisdom," she coos as birds sing and acoustic guitars vibrate alongside soothing flutes. It's a mossy coda to an album that distills three decades of musical peregrinating, imparting some of the sobering wisdom she learned, in the most memorable fashion.