September 5, 2002

Daybreaking the Old Formula

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Daybreaker once again displays singer-songstress Beth Orton’s adept talents for generating compositions and lyrics that lean toward the innovative and transcendently poetic. The album evokes a dreamy musical landscape of thoughtful, mellow melodies marked by Orton’s trademark penchant for the sounds of soulful folk and experimental electronica. It’s an engaging and stirring compilation, very consistent in the quality you’d expect from an acclaimed artiste like Orton.

A particular moodiness permeates the new release with its continual vacillation between the dramatic and the lighthearted, making for a nice, balanced mix of two disparate yet complementary attitudes. For example, the opener is a dark and stormy number entitled “Paris Train,” somewhat reminiscent of her masterpiece “Stolen Car” on the predecessor Central Reservation with its interesting collision of old world string orchestrals and modern day electronic beats amidst the strain of her distinctive Bjork-esque singing voice.

However, this heaviness is counteracted by the following carefree whimsy of “Concrete Sky,” a refreshing dose of neo-folk enhanced by the mellifluous harmonies of Orton and guest alt-country-rocker Ryan Adams, and the cyclical pattern of somber circa sweet continues along smoothly.

It’s also this reliable template that makes the album feel a little too predictable in nature. The songs seem to follow a stylistic dualism and rarely are there any treks into different sound territories and attitudes.

But the best moment on Daybreaker comes when Orton strays from the ordinary and ventures onto more daring ground, as exemplified by the phenomenal track “Anywhere.” The song shines with its seductive plunge into the world of sensual bossa nova, deliciously indulging listeners to discard all inhibitions and dive into the pool of impulse and hedonism. “This One’s Gonna Bruise,” also a deviation from her characteristic folk and electronica mode, is an extremely simple yet poignant track that intimately draws listeners into the depths of her gently stirring angst.

The only moment during which Daybreaker flagrantly falters is with “God Song,” a very traditional and clich