Often times when a young artist takes on a new incarnation, changing their name and dismissing their band, it can signal that it is the last bob up out of the water before the final descent. Thankfully, this is not the case for Du Blonde or as she was formerly known Beth Jeans Houghton. On May 18th Du Blonde under her new moniker releases her album,” Welcome Back to Milk”. Don’t let the in your face album cover put you off; this is the rebirth of a gifted performer.
For those first encountering Du Blonde there is a back story. In her original incarnation as Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny she was the front person for the psycho rock 60’s pop folk band. In the summer of 2012 while touring things began to go south for Houghton and the band. Relentless touring caused Houghton to have a nervous breakdown. After time spent getting better physically and mentally she made some major life changing decisions. She ditched her name and changed it to Du Blonde, pulled the plug on Hooves of Destiny and started the recording process all over again. What came out of all that turmoil is an enthralling disc that places all that personal anger and emotion in her songs, unlike in the past when she allowed those elements to destroy her from within. “Welcome Back to Milk” is an exuberant and at times confessional record loaded with heavy riffs, loud dramas and sometimes in your face aggression, it is a fantastic reinvention.
The album was produced with Jim Sciavunos of Bad Seeds fame. He was just what the doctor ordered with his unfussy arrangements, creating a clean canvas for Du Blonde to work her mastery both musically and lyrically. The mood and emotions are unfiltered and delivered with laser like precision.
“Welcome Back to Milk” is an album that at its heart is cathartic and therapeutic. Du Blonde is working through a number of personal and professional issues. Professionally she takes the music industry to task for its ingrained misogyny. “I was being told to just deal with the misogyny… there was a clear message for young girls in the business and in relationships to still shut up, do what your told, and be thankful.” The recording is a powerful rebuff to that thinking. Gone is the Baroque Chamber Pop ethos of her prior release “Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose”. Emerging instead is an edgy and dark at times rock album. Du Blonde starts off the album with “Black Flag” a gritty in your face rock out. It is also a hat tip to the band Black Flag one of Du Blonde’s favorites. After mapping out her intentions on “Black Flag”, “Chips to Go” confirms where this record is headed, the energetic guitar delivers a glam rock vibe as Du Blonde channels her inner Chrissie Hynde. She drawls a powerful reminder that “life is a show get your chips and go.”
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The album is not all bombastic rock, “Raw Honey” has a lovely piano accompaniment as Du Blonde contemplates the options when running into someone who looks so very tempting but will only bring damage and disarray. It is another great track that pulls no punches and feels true to life.
“After the Show” changes thing up with a ballad that feels heartfelt as it examines romance on the road. It gives insight into some of the traumas Du Blonde has recently suffered through. It is cathartic and confessional. You can sense the grit and grime of backstage with its bad lighting and boredom filled inanity. Du Blonde perfectly conveys the desperation to be recognized for something other than a backstage groupee. “All I needed was a little of your respect.”
“If You’re Legal” takes a twist on the classic male concern and reexamines the issue. It is an energetic track that at some point becomes dare I say a punk torch song. “Hunter” is a radio friendly ballad. This breakup song showcases Du Blonde’s vocal chops. The track also does something interesting as the protagonist of the song wishes the departing lover not a life of regret but all the best, as the relationship just didn’t workout. This is a nice change up from all the angry revenge breakup songs aka Alanis Morrisette and that ilk. It is unexpected and refreshing as the handling is not what you would expect from someone who is really ticked at the male hierarchy. It keeps the album from becoming stereotypically anti male, which is something that can happen all too easily when discussing gender issues from the female point of view.
“Hard to Please” is a knees up song with an aggressive sound. In the song a woman who has been desperate to please turns a volte face and starts to wonder why she is so desperate to please, again a really cool spin on the common wisdom of relationships in our modern world. “Young Entertainment” is noteworthy for its 60’s wall of sound feel. The song takes smug men to task for the emotional abuse they dish out. It has a great chorus that certainly earns a parental warning, it is a “girl power” song squared. “Mr. Hyde” follows in that thematic vein and is so good it demands multiple listens.
“Four in the Morning” is a lovely ballad track which channeling the likes of Sarah Mclachlan. It perfectly encapsulates that pre dawn after party ennui. “Mine is on my Mind” is a track just short of perfection. It starts off with a Gregorian chant and then just bursts forth into a full on sonic attack. It takes the quiet/loud concept to a whole new level; it is like waking from sleep to an alarm clock you can’t shut off. The track has to be heard to be appreciated. Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands provides vocals that are the icing on this delectable track.
The final track “Isn’t it Wild” is the most eclectic selection of the collection, and the one that harkens back to Du Blonde’s previous incarnation. The initial voice over gives some great advice. The song itself examines life’s great contradictions and rationalizations. The song reminds me of Laurie Anderson’s work. The lyric that sticks with me is “for all of your friends you’re still left counting on none.”
This is an album that surprised me; I didn’t expect to like it so much. The production is faultless. Du Blonde is well able to hold her own with any musician out there and her lyrics are engaging and insightful. For all of her disappointment with the opposite sex, underneath she still seems to likes them and is pretty evenhanded and not off putting in her justified criticism. As reinventions go, this one is a grand success.
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