Hunchbacked, blond-haired, smoker’s-lunged Beth Gibbons is the scary aunt you never had. (Unless, of course, the Portishead frontwoman is your mom’s sister, in which case she’s the scary aunt you do have, and may I advise against a fruitcake for Christmas this year?) On Out of Season, Gibbons’s new album with former Talk Talk bassist Rustin Man (known to his own scary aunt as Paul Webb), the singer seems intent on connecting her singular vocalese—one part late-night balladeer, one part Billie Holiday Inn crooner, many parts evil cat lady—back to some classical notion of song-form respectability, as if the vying for space inside Geoff Barrow’s trip-hop chop shop only convinced her that singers need guys bending meticulously over acoustic instruments to be appreciated.
Gestures toward whatever you like abound: depressive tea-bag art song (“Show”), curdled Disney mirth (“Romance”), finger-picked Bryter Layter folk-jazz (“Sand River”), even improbably hot and buttered soul-funk (“Tom the Model”). Gibbons twerks her suppressed mojo every which way throughout, extracting dread from the friction between pitch and grain, idiosyncrasy and politesse. “You know you don’t ever have to worry ’bout me,” she seethes over burdened brass bleats. It ain’t you, lady; it’s me.