When describing Beth Jeans Houghton’s music, the following words are often thrust around: insane, fierce, eccentric, ambitious, unpredictable and manic. Delicate and beautiful are often forgotten, cast aside by critics in the clear excitement of discovering somebody who is young, attractive and possibly slightly mad. Her new album Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose is released this week, after a painstaking and meticulous writing and production process which, although evident in the impressive precision of the record, has resulted in a density of detail with the potential to overwhelm the listener on anything other than an eighth or ninth listen.
The record is littered with unexpected corners, compelling the listener to pay attention but risking their immediate enjoyment by filling every spare beat with new and different instruments, complex wording and multiple vocal layers. There are a few moments, such as after the first beautiful half-minute verse of Dodecahedron, where Houghton’s compulsion to experiment and carry a song off in a new direction takes it away from its blissful simplicity. I was left mourning the beginning of the song and longed for its return; she can be a slightly infuriating song-writer in this sense.
Her voice is a marvel, at times so carefully executed that it sounds a little bit like she has some cake in her mouth, and at others gliding gloriously above the numerous clattering sounds of her band in an angelic choral soprano line. You need only listen to the first minute of Night Swimmer to appreciate her vocal dexterity and her talent for writing seriously witty lyrics:
‘My darling wears his clothes to go swimming at night. Me, I can only hope he’ll go out with the tide’.
Albums with cringe-worthily quirky titles are often released by boring people who are attempting to come across as “like, soooooo crazy and totally OUT THERE”. Thankfully, the reliably unusual and interesting content of Houghton’s songs serve to prove this theory wrong. There is a tendency lyrically towards the macabre, with references to rotting teeth, bleeding eyeballs and night terrors, but these lines are placed with exacting and subtle care, providing the perfect antidote to what might have seemed an overly aggressive delivery of the songs. She might need to tone it down slightly but, given her mere twenty-one years, her penchant for experimentation is exciting, her songwriting astonishing in its maturity and variety, and her obvious musical talent inspiring.