Beth Orton

Daybreaker

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Largely shorn of the energy and ebullience of the preceding Central Reservation, Beth Orton's third LP cuts a far more somber figure -- Daybreaker sacrifices immediacy for uniformity of mood and emotional tenor, and although it's perhaps her most consistent and mature work to date, it's also her least engaging, never matching the dizzying heights of her previous efforts even as it consciously avoids past pitfalls. The attention to detail and nuance that colors these ten songs is undeniably impressive, but in forgoing the electronic elements of before in favor of more organic adornments like strings and guitar drones, Orton's lost some of her originality and unpredictability -- she's very much a traditional singer/songwriter now, and though much of Daybreaker is jaw-droppingly beautiful and brutally poignant, somehow the word "traditional" seems all wrong for any qualified assessment of Orton's music. To its credit, the record's subtleties blossom over repeated listens, and moments like "Thinking About Tomorrow" and the haunting "God's Song" rank with Orton's best, but the album as a whole is so relentlessly dour and down-tempo that it never quite takes flight -- which may well be the point, but it's not a point well-taken.

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