Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man

Beth Gibbons's first album since her last Portishead project is both agonizingly beautiful and uncomfortably intense, a pairing with Paul "Rustin Man" Webb (formerly of Talk Talk) that dives headfirst into her vocal eccentricities. At various times she coos soft, comforting lullabies ("Sand River"); strains her voice into a thin and harsh screech ("Funny Time of Year"); then drops it into a low, affected bellow ("Tom the Model"). The overall effect, though, is one of not bravura showmanship but painful exploration of her damaged, lovelorn psyche. On "Sand River" she sings, "Autumn leaves / Pretty as can be / Everyone can see / Everyone except me."

A bewitching performer, Gibbons tends to evoke strong feelings. Some will encounter Out of Season and dismiss it as posturing; others will lose themselves in Rustin Man's atmospheric soundtrack, particularly on the moody orchestral ballad "Romance," and simply ignore her. But she is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the album, channeling its dark, dreamy energy down oft-unexplored paths. Fragments of her words reverberate in your memory long after the album ends with the final track, "Rustin Man," her voice echoing, "I can't deny this is you again."

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Mosi Reeves