There’s no denying that there is something truly impressive about those who can hit it right on a debut record. Yet, despite all the fuss and praise we pour over “stunning debuts,” how easily we overlook, or perhaps choose to ignore sometimes, the graft that goes into making them. Instead choosing to assume maybe that these great records simply materialise fully-formed, free of any effort whatsoever because admittedly it’s at least twice as magical that way. Maybe it’s the mark of a great artist that they can pull that all important first out of thin air, I don’t know. But sometimes, when the groundwork, the trial, the error and the caked make-up proves as impressive as the final product, essentially the most significant and inspired ingredients in someone’s drive to actually make an impressive debut, then this is something to be admired.
Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose is, by all accounts, one of those stunning debuts and it has quite rightly found critics clambering to question how someone so young can arrive so assuredly with one of the year’s most individual albums under her arm. Truth is of course, this record has been a long time coming for Beth Jeans Houghton, Newcastle upon Tyne’s ’reet chic sweetheart and an artist wise, way beyond her twenty-or-so years.
It’s been almost two years since we last had something to pour over from BJH, and almost immediately, in the same way “I Will Return, I Promise” from her last release Hot Toast Volume One jumped out of the starting block, we have here, in typically slanted fashion, the wonderful “Sweet Tooth Bird.” Psychedelic horn sections and an idyllic sing-a-long reminiscent of ’60s trad folk’s embrace of twee and whimsy, it’s a friendly hello to new listeners and the perfect preamble into “Humble Digs,” “Dodecahedron,” and “Atlas.” Almost one half of a record filled with Nico-like spoils that treat listeners to the humbling influence of Vashti Bunyan as much as it does the aural acrobatics (and theatrics) of Kate Bush. A master class where Houghton’s youthful poise and inordinate passion for pleasure allows her to sing so confidently because you get the impression that she has much to sing about: “Dissecting the atlas for places we’ve been / Your list is longer but you’ve got more years on me” (“Atlas”).
The exceptional “Night Swimmer,” which originally featured as an Adem produced b-side to her Static Caravan 7” “Golden,” is given an inspired tweak here. One of many astute assists by producer Hillier (Blur, Elbow) – another being the rerecorded version of “Lillyput” – which finally gives Houghton a sound on record that compares with her ability on paper. A love song and modern twist on that traditional inspiration of the ocean, it ushers in a second side that sees Houghton pursue her slightly more esoteric qualities, most notably of all on the Dory Previn fashioned “Carousel,” with schizophrenic narratives and orchestral sounds. A mature statement of intent and a far cry from the innocent, gentle folk flower some might remember from her first ever Green Man Festival performance way back when.
In equal measure perhaps the success of this record can be split four ways between Houghton, her band The Hooves of Destiny, producer Ben Hillier and the faith of those at Mute Records. Who between them all have highlighted the finest things about Houghton’s writing and transferred all those crazy apropos of everything weird and wonderful about her live repertoire into something grown-up, at last. A record that I can only imagine is as much a triumph for Houghton as it is for those who’ve watched her audition through the folkways of the past few years. If you take one thing away from this debut, take away the fact that it’s thoroughly deserved.