Album Reviews

Beth Jeans Houghton – Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose

(Mute) UK release date: 6 February 2012

As far as band names and album titles go the title of the debut album from 21-year-old Newcastle singer songwriter Beth Jeans Houghton and her grandly named band, The Hooves Of Destiny, is up there with the very best, or worst, depending on your viewpoint. The baffling title of Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose, however, is indicative of the unique, captivating world that Houghton has created and built since the release of her fist single way back in 2008.

Houghton’s career has been stop start and protracted ever since she first came to prominence in 2008, the well received Hot Toast EP followed in 2009 and it seemed Houghton was set for a real breakthrough, however, her experimental folksy sound was perhaps a bit to wispy and well, plain strange, for the mainstream to really take her to heart. It seems that all Houghton needed was someone to harness her expressive talents and producer Ben Hillier (Blur, Elbow) appears to be that man. In fact, the album was actually written and recorded back in 2009 but has been regularly delayed since. Now, however, after signing to Mute in 2011, Houghton, with The Hooves Of Destiny by her side, is finally ready to release her debut album and it is a very fine collection of immersive grandiose pop, characterised by Houghton’s, at times surreal, but always interesting personality.

There is certainly no one else making music like Beth Jeans Houghton in 2012; she is certainly ploughing her own, very unique furrow. Sweet Tooth Bird makes for a rousing introduction as the military style drums career relentlessly throughout the track framed by horns and strings but with Houghton’s soaring operatic croon very much to the fore. Humble Digs adds a banjo to the mix before erupting in a huge operatic chorus, it is a big sound but it never feels cloying or forced.

The sweetly lilting single Dodecahedron may be the best introduction to Houghton’s surreal world. Over gorgeous twinkling xylophone Houghton’s tells the story of a weird dream she had one evening. There are very few pop songs that begin with opening lines as brilliantly barmy as: “Last night I dreamed of dodecahedrons.”

Atlas is a more straightforward indie pop song, or as straightforward as Beth Jeans Houghton can get, introducing a twanging rock n roll guitar to the mix over some vigorous drums, this track also features a superbly striking falsetto vocal from Houghton, which is a repeated highlight throughout the record.

If there is a criticism that can be levelled at Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose it is that the sheer overwhelming mesh of sounds and theatricality can become overwhelming and Night Swimmer and Franklin Benedict take the orchestral pop sound arguably a bit too far, fortunately Houghton’s sheer force of personality largely weighs out any musical excesses. The Album highlight is, notably, the most restrained and understated track on the album. The Barely Skinny Bone Tree is an impossibly beautiful piece of ornate folk full of wonderfully evocative imagery and an entrancing degree of mystery; it is a very impressive piece of music indeed. Carousel ends the album on a note of joyful exuberance and its fiddly strings and high-pitched vocal affectations are a suitably idiosyncratic way to end and album that frequently baffles but more importantly enthrals.

It is not very often that an artist comes along that is so strikingly unique and hugely talented and with Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose Beth Jeans Houghton has made a beguilingly lovely debut album that shows immense promise.

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