There are artists that write great music, and there are artists that have (in the old-fashioned, pre-Cowell sense of the term) “the X factor”; rarely do the two intertwine, but when they do – Bowie, Waits, Bjork etc. – the results are invariably spectacular. 22 year-old Newcastle lass Beth Jeans Houghton appears to have both qualities in spades, with a bewitching voice and a gift for a nifty tune as well as a penchant for playing in wigs and costumes that has seen her labelled “the Oxfam Gaga” and a back-story that combines fact and fantasy to riveting effect. Okay, so she obviously wasn’t – as an early press bio claimed – raised in Transylvania by Albino wolves, but the real version of events is much more interesting: having played her first 15-minute gig underage in a pub in her hometown, her second was in front of 10,000 people after Devendra Banhart invited “anyone with a song to sing” to join him on stage at 2007’s Green Man festival. Post-performance, Houghton danced backstage with Joanna Newsom and befriended Tuung’s Mike Lindsay (who recorded her debut EP), and over the following months she built up a solid live rep opening for the likes of Bon Iver and Mumford & Sons. But whilst many critics tipped her for the same kind of success as Bat For Lashes and Laura Marling, Houghton – keen to distance herself from the “folk” tag – disappeared off the radar to record her debut album away from the glare of the hype machine and on her own terms, with her band the Hooves Of Destiny and pop producer Ben Hillier. The curiously-titled Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose – which is currently streaming in its entirety at The Quietus – is neither folk nor pop, but it incorporates elements of both into a wonderful tapestry of swirling, Baroque psychedelia and surreal imagery that recalls indie experimentalists like Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear as much as it does Banhart or Vashti Bunyan. Opener “Sweet Tooth Bird” is heralded by a fanfare of trumpets, and throughout the record violins, harpsichord, xylophone, synths, galloping drums and massed male voice choirs are deployed subtly but with just enough force to crush any notion that Houghton is just a girl with an acoustic guitar, and although there is an undeniable vocal similarity to the aforementioned Ms. Marling, the upbeat tempos, unconventional arrangements and humorous lyrical twists bear more resemblance to a less somber Florence or Arcade Fire at their most playful. It’s an incredibly varied album, flip-flopping from twee, orchestral waltzes to gospel, sea-shanties and even Afro-pop, so listen to latest single “Dodecahedron” here but for a better overall picture be sure to check out that stream.
Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose is out February 6 on Mute