A painted horizon – Beth Gibbons‘ „Lives Outgrown“ reviewed

Beth Gibbons: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Backing vocals / Lee Harris: Drums, Daff, Percussion, Mellotron / James Ford: Backing vocals, Harmonium, Mellotron, Vibraphone, Piano spoons, Double bass Strings, Woodwind and Brass performed by Orchestrate / Strings, Woodwind and Brass written by Lee Harris, arranged by James Ford, Lee Harris and Bridget Samuels (every song comes with a detailed list of the players involved. People who know the Kate Bush family, may know Raven Bush who has some appearances on the album. This is the list of the first song, „Tell Me Who You Are Today“, Lee Harris is co-credited as composer on several tracks)

a review as a work in progress, this one. Every day add something somewhere, a thought that comes to mind, skip, what makes less sense. Sometimes a thought developing, on the other hand a collection of impressions. The fun thing will be, if my enthusiasm is a minority thing. No problem with that. With the „Julia Holter review duo“, we are at least two who will make it an „album of the year“, probably. That said, none of my other nine favourites are (in my merciless ears) less than brilliant. These are subtle differences that often let themselves reduce to taste and preference and mood. Julia’s work is the living example of a grower, and being focused on fluidity (water), the sounds tend to the upper register, the ethereal. So, they are not as easily accesssible than Beth Gibbons’ hypermelodic „down to earth“ retro folk (and beyind) charms. Maybe this album from BG made me so enthuastic, too, because here again, like on her earlier works, you will find a hard-to-grasp melange of vocal excellence and irresistible sounds around t („the landscape she’s moving through“). I cannot praise enough the production work of James Ford (who entered the scene much later in the timeline), and the masterclass of Lee Harris who was part of the journey from start on. The spirit of „spirit of eden“ maybe a bit too smart to work as a reference, cause the „feel“ is so different. For someone who nearly has „cult followers“ in regards to her vocal style (a cult big enough to sell out big venues), „Lives Outgrown“ in fact appears as her masterpiece, not relying on old formula. This review (though well hidden under the radar of this blog) is the first one in the web (as in print and radio). The next two „Plattenbesprechungen“ will follow in Uncut and Mojo. „Lives Outgrown“ is the „FLOWWORKER ALBUM OF MAY“. And another question, Mr. Westfeld, do you feel reminded of other albums from other artists here? It has somehow that „instant classic“ appeal and „vibe“ of early albums of the new British folk-revival scenes of the late 60‘s and early 70‘s, but not as a first thought that springs to mind.) After the album‘s release on May 17, this album will be part of the playlist pf my next edition of „Klanghorizonte“ (Deitschlandfunk), along with – probably – some other extraordinary records by Julia Holter, Nico, Arushi Jain, a nun from Ethiopia and more.

From the start, all of her works have been collaborative. In the very early days when strolling through small venues and pubs, she relied on a repertoire of classics, made famous by Lady Day (I assume) and Janis Joplin (I have read). Later on, in the Portishead years (that perfect trio with Barrow & Utley), the silences in between, and, after the blow away zone of „Third“, out of nowhere, „Out Of Season“, the album with Paul Webb aka Rustin Man, at last singing Gorecki – all teamwork: the intricacies of her voice, the surrounding sounds, the immaculate productions.

Landscapes she‘s been moving through. The urban darkness. The dystopia, the hometown. The hinterland. Between  „Dummy“ and „Out Of Season“ a strange sort of melancholia took center stage, strangely uplifting, elevating („elevator music“ of a rare kind). She led a reluctant life, never hurrying for fame.

It took her (add Lee Harris and James Ford, as time went by) around ten years from first sketches to final mixes. Her singing now reaching out so far and deep – not heard that vocal range before. Hypermelodic and far, far out at the same time. Restrainment and passion all over the place (what a strange clash of polarities). From a distance, vibes of „The Wicker Man“ and other exotica, but „Lives Outgrown“ is a unique achievement of kindred spirits, the darkest campfire chamber music we may have heard in quite a while.

The old stuff laid bare: grief, growing old, losses (and what change is gonna come after sleepless nights for too long). The beyond of the everyday. „On the path / With my restless curiosity / Beyond life / Before me …“ The most „progressive“ instruments: a mellotron and an electric guitar. Floating lines (with a sense of the unexpected, you never know where the journey takes you). Passages close to catching fire (and catching fire). The glow, the gloom.

Under the surface of controlled delivery (and a breathtaking sense of details), there‘s an undeniable urgency to these songs. No involvement of cozy nostalgia, of things coming to a rest – in spite of the last song, an invovation, a dream of nature and peace of mind: what a closer of a terrific album. Beth Gibbons has painted her masterpiece. The most honest review: a painted horizon.

5 Kommentare

  • Olaf Westfeld

    Ach – von mir aus könnteste noch ein bisschen mehr ansteckende Begeisterung verbreiten;)
    Oder eine andere Frage beanworten: Pentangle, Fairport Convention oder Incredible String Band – und wenn ja was?

  • Michael Engelbrecht

    Das ist ein zu weites Feld. Ich werde nie mein erstes Hören von Liege & Lief vergessen. Abgesehen vom Radio ziehe ich es vor, in ein Album lange abzutauchen, als die perfekte FolkRockPlayList zu erstellen. Das Album von Fairport Convention ist so eins. Und das ist eine alte Geschichte dazu:


    Brian W. has written that fine review of a book of one of the women of ISB. That is a brutally honest view backwards. No nostalgia.

    I was lucky to see Bert Jansch live and solo in the Omnibus, Würzburg.

  • 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.

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