Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny
Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose
, February 6th, 2012 09:09
There are plenty of surprises to be had on Yours Truly Cellophane Nose, but perhaps the biggest of all is to find it on Mute, which one more readily associates with detached, metronomic efficiency and malevolent electronica. In truth, the legendary label's roster has been far more diverse than one might expect at first thought, though it's still hard to remember them releasing anything that sounded quite this... well, heavenly.
When listening to Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny, a glorious visual smorgasbord springs to mind: angels, white marble arches, Victorian Generals, feathered burlesque dancers, unicorns and Brian Blessed in Flash Gordon. Yet where in another's hands this array of images (and especially unicorns, with their associated chintzy friends of rainbows, crescent moons and twinkling stars) might have summoned up the appallingly twee, that's never the case here. Throughout Yours Truly Cellophane Nose, there's nary a sniff of whimsy to be found.
What we have is an album of scope and unbridled invention, drawing from the past (in both music and aesthetics) to create a universe of sounds and textures that are quite unlike anything around at the moment. Space is used wisely so that choral singing and violins and harps can all live together without ever sounding too cluttered; something that is no mean feat. And on top of it all sits Beth Jeans Houghton's versatile falsetto. There's an almost inexplicable pipey tone to her voice that is reminiscent of Nick Drake, but hers leads us on a merry dance to joyous abandon where Drake's could so often be an instrument of sorrow.
'Sweet Tooth Bird' arrives with victorious trumpet blast, the splashing of cymbals and the thumping of big drums. Over the next half hour or so there's barely a gap to draw breath. 'Humble Digs' smuggles in a banjo, but then becomes a much bigger event as it strives towards the ethereal, drawing on celestial powers and just about anything else it can get its hands on. In fact, this dynamism is used unsparingly throughout, and to no better effect than on 'Atlas'. Houghton reveals a penchant for older men on this track ("dissecting the atlas for places we've been / your list is longer but you've got more years on me"), and that includes Adam Ant, whose ideas about drumming and BVs are all over it; this is of course a good thing.
'Lilliputt' canters along at a feverish pace, while 'Veins' starts out like an old-fashioned soul record, again turning into something more frantic and alacritous. 'Franklin Benedict' is verbose with stabbing cellos and shooting analogue squelches (it is a Mute record after all). Any song that uses the word 'unitard' has to be alright.
Yours Truly Cellophane Nose is breezy, uplifting and a pitch perfect demonstration of the fact that to sound this capricious actually takes an awful lot of work. Furthermore, as Mute continues to stake out its identity as a renewed independent, it is proof too that a label with such history can still confound our expectations and spring pleasant, present-day surprises.