Out of Season
On the evocative album Out Of Season, the first sound one hears is a rising gust of wind. Those familiar with Beth Gibbons’s work with Bristol’s trip-hop pioneers Portishead won’t interpret this as a gentle, summer breeze but rather as an ominous sign of things to come.
The atmosphere created on this record, co-produced by Gibbons and Talk Talk’s Paul Webb (a.k.a. Rustin Man), is timeless and haunting. At moments there’s nothing but piano or guitar and the stunning vocals. At other points Gibbons’ voice sounds like it’s oozing from an old vinyl 78. Yet at other times it’s lushly produced, bold in the mix and with almost pop-like clarity.
Unlike the sample-heavy beats of Portishead, the songs here are quieter, and the arrangements built upon spare jazz guitars (from Portishead’s own Adrian Utley), pianos, standup bass, and brush-stroked drums. Ghostly soundscapes float through the melodies, creating a moody, portentous brew. While distant noises fade in and out, one anxiously waits for the storm to unleash itself.
Standing alone in this storm is the voice of Beth Gibbons, a contemporary Billie Holiday with a breathtaking vocal range and uncanny control of her talent. On Out of Season she has proven again that she is one of the more intriguing singers of her generation.
There’s a recurring sadness and anger in Gibbons’s music with Portishead, and the buzz of it here is contagious. Raised on a farm in England, she once claimed, "Even my happy songs can’t escape the pull of melancholy." Indeed, Out Of Season might be an album to enjoy by the fire rather than by the pool. On the climactic song "Funny Time of Year" she sings, "There’ll be no blossom on the trees; and time spent crying has taken me in this year." Let’s hope that her sadness continues to inspire work of this magnitude.
Todd Simmons is a writer/actor/improviser. He lives in the East Village.