Beth Jeans Houghton debuted as an indie songstress in 2012 with an album that rode the wave of the recent folk revival. Picture Laura Marling, but with the panache of Tori Amos. Half way through her follow up effort, however, Houghton became dissatisfied and walked away to do some soul searching.
More than two years later, she has re-emerged with a new musical direction, reborn under the moniker, Du Blonde: a larger than life, Ziggy Stardust-like character, providing a wonderful creative focus. And while there is also a touch of Bowie-era psychedelic glam to her new material, it’s the sound of garage punk that gives the album, Welcome Back To Milk, its edgy power.
Helping Houghton to harness this raw energy in the transformation is Jim Sclavunos (drummer for the Bad Seeds and Grinderman), who both produces and plays on the album. This is one of those collaborations that works perfectly, resulting in a high-octane record that is beautifully raw and honest, while revelling in moments of baroque bombast.
Separating this from some other garage/punk efforts, the rowdy, distorted guitars and frenetic rhythms, thankfully don’t result in Houghton forgetting how to sing: no nasally drones to be heard here. In fact, her beautifully smooth voice pierces clearly through the unwashed sounds, creating a mix that’s both energising and seductive. It’s a bit like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with a harder edge.
The attitude of brash and sass starts with the confronting album cover and arrests the listener with bold opener, ‘Black Flag’, continuing right through the record. Houghton doesn’t forget her songwriter roots though, with the quiet beauty of ‘Four In The Morning’ and the Motown polish of ‘Raw Honey’ and ‘Hunter’ giving the album its varied hue.
And despite the prevailingly vociferous flavour of the album, Sclavunos gives production an absorbing, uncluttered sound that suits the raw candour of the song-writing.
Du Blonde is an uncompromising and highly original character; with Welcome Back To Milk she delivers an album that’s entertaining, invigorating and provocative. Put it on loud and get acquainted.
Welcome Back To Milk is out now from Mute Records.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor