Beth Jeans Houghton


Today is round-up day. I’d like to say that I’ve been inactive since before Christmas because I’ve been wracked by the critic’s uncertainty, a condition that has consigned me to bedrest due to the heavy burden of responsibility that lies upon me, a million watching eyes awaiting my decision that will make, and yes, break the careers of those I cast my unwavering, omniscient gaze over. But really I’ve just been drunk and/or sleeping for two weeks. But no more, for today is the release of the shortlist for the Blog Sound of 2012, and with it will come some other listy posts later in the day.

This whole Blog Sound idea was really rather exciting to me; a swathe of people who write about music discussing that music, but in a context that has historically been far removed from those involved in the BBC’s parent poll. What’s been most interesting in thinking about it though is that this separate group consciousness has become rather more visible throughout this year. In listening to the type of music journalist who would no doubt be involved with the BBC poll, more and more discussion has, for better or worse, centred around an artist’s blog buzz this year.

Lana Del Rey, whatever I might think about her, has no doubt been a product of the internet experience rather than any traditional music performance. Long before excited discussion of live shows or extravagent personal lives, we now see multimedia introductions – ‘Video Games’ became worthy of discussion by way of the images we were presented with. Del Rey has offered herself and a projected personality through degraded video footage and THOSE STUPID LIPS as much as through a louche vocal style. The purity of the internet music experience, an infinite plane with no other distractions to take away from what we choose to face ourselves with, is not as crystal clear as we might have thought. That said, the muddying of the internet waters has led to increased interest from circles who, a few years ago, might not have taken any notice. A few retweets of a Youtube clip by the right people and an artist can have their work played to literally thousands of people who might not otherwise have been interested before. Just on play on Spotify can notify every single friend on your Facebook timeline. These exponential connections will only keep growing and with it so will the interest in the source of the initial information, be that artist or, dare I say it, unwashed blogger.

So, with this in mind, it will be extremely interesting to see how each of these shortlisted artists fares this year. It may not be directly because of this post(or any other blog’s post of this list for that matter), but the potential for growth is now such that any of these five artists could have far more clout than they could have hoped for in previous years. What follows is the shortlist, in reverse order of votes, with personal comments about each. Only the list itself is as voted for by every blog.

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In entirely the most positive way possible, Daughter’s Elena Tonra sounds like she could be a really dull popstar. This is positive, because she absolutely isn’t. Her breathy,angelic vocals hover gently over ambient soundscapes that constantly threaten a coherent melody. It’s an engaging combintion, taking what makes soft-rock’s most successful businesses so popular, puts it all behind a wall of fog and makes it actually worth expending some thinking (and listening) time over. I was already excited, now more so.

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Displaying so many shades of popular 21st-Century indie bands that they’re practically shadowy, French Wives don’t strike me as much more than a baffling experiment in postmodern pastiche. That said, some of the interplay between in influences can make for some nice moments. Their seeming fascination with Classical instruments making Classical sounds (see: Vampire Weekend) jostling for space between punchy, oratory verses (see: Editors) and a fondness for big, showy chorus work (see: any stadium-bound indie act) results in a kinetic tumble of noise that just about resolves itself enough to seem reasonable. An odd choice, but one that could certainyl bear fruit.

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I was a relatively early Beth Jeans Houghton supporter, but the more of her music I hear, the less I end up liking it. The casual, folky whimsy of the original recordings seems to be being replaced with a wishy-washy siren sound and, after seeing her at End of the Road this year, a similar onstage personality too. There’s no doubt it’s a more complex musical persona, but I just find it less interesting. That said, in the post-Florence world we all live in, with the right pop nous Ms. Houghton could go far (and given the fact that I liked Florence early on too, the signs are either good or bad depending which way you look at it).

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The prevailing criticism of this London four-piece seems to be that they draw on Talking Heads rather heavily. I’m more aware of Two Door Cinema Club in their sound – a less venerable comparison perhaps, but not a negative one. That same high-register, major key guitar shuffle works its way through their newer tracks, a carefree, youthful look at guitar pop. Then again, the two older tracks on their Soundcloud page indicate a more nocturnal, synth-based sound so, frankly, god knows at what sonic crossroads this lot will end up at in the coming year.

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I have to say, I’m a little surprised this came top of the list. It seems just about the least inventive choice of any of this list – a slumberous ’80s pop cool pervades each track, and the fact that I could sum it up that easily seems to say everything that needs to be said. Then again, it’s also the only choice that tallies with the BBC poll, which could provide the most interesting result of our own experiment, albeit with two very different conclusions. This could either signal what I had already mentioned, that blogs are beginning to have real (although indirect) purchase in the world of “tastemakers” or that us bloggers aren’t quite as different and forward thinking as we might like to believe. Either way, I think this poll has thrown up a lot to think about, and not just in terms of the music proferred, especially if it turns out Friends have made it to the top of the BBC list too (which wasn’t known when I published this).

So by now I imagine you’ve seen this year’s BBC Sound of 2012 long list. It’s not spectacular. Which is why a group of the UK’s best music blogs – and me, somehow – were petitioned to put together their own list within much the same parameters to see what kind of alternatives we would come up with. No matter what I might think, the aim wasn’t to disrespect what had been suggested elsewhere, but rather to provide another viewpoint, from a different section of the industry (namely, outside of it, looking ravenously in) and, looking at the results, I think we’ve managed that admirably. So here it is, the Blog Sound of 2012 longlist:
  • Houdini Dax
  • Lianne De Haves
  • Theme Park
  • French Wives
  • The Good Natured
  • Alt J
  • The Jezabels
  • Lucy Rose
  • Bastille
  • Washington
  • Friends
  • Meursault
  • Daughter
  • Beth Jeans Houghton
  • Outfit

No prizes for guessing who I voted for there.


Meursault – Sleet

The shortlist will be revealed as and when the Beeb’s own version is released and we’ll continue from there. Oh, and just so you know, the “panel” was made up of:

Breaking More Waves, My Band Is Better Than Your Band,  God Is In the TV,  Sweeping The Nation, The Von Pip Musical Express, The Recommender, Faded Glamour, Drunken Werewolf, Flying With Anna, Not Many Experts, Underclassed Idle Ideas, Sonic Masala, Mudkiss, The Pop Cop, The Ring Master, Both Bars On, Music From A Green Window, Dots And Dashes, The Daily Growl, And Everyones A DJ, Kowolskiy, Just Music That I Like, Cruel Rhythms,  The Blue Walrus, Music Fans Mic, Seventeen Seconds, Eaten By Monsters, Seven Sevens, Unpeeled, New Rave Brain Wave, Peenko, Music Liberation and Song By Toad.

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You have had to deal with ten of these now. They ain’t stopping.

Beirut – Untitled 10 (YSI)

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This time I actually have a reason for not posting: I was at End of the Road, which was quite easily the best festival I’ve been to yet. A fantastic lineup, uncrowded, laid-back atmosphere and woods to walk around in. I couldn’t ask for more. But, if you weren’t there, this could all seem self-indulgent, so I’ve got a mini-treat for you. This week’s Folk Bloke was an exercise in excitement for me (it’s pre-recroded) and either consolation, jealousy, irritation or reminiscence for the listeners, given that it’s entirely End of the Road themed. Whoopee!

The Secret Sisters – Tennessee Me (YSI)

What with the spirit of goodwill that’s being bandied around at the moment, I thought it only proper to recognise the achievements of those bands whose albums weren’t quite good enough (or didn’t exist enough) to be included on my end of year album list. So here we go, the unrecognised gems of this fair year of music. Oh and if you’re too lazy to download them all from below, and too impatient to wait for the next half tomorrow, here’s a big ol’ Zip file stuffed full of ’em.

Arcade Fire – Lenin (YSI)

I know this has been around for quite a while, but 2009 was the year that this song was finally released, and it’s my list, ok? A more sparse and upbeat affair than their usual offerings, Montreal’s finest have created a jaunty, guitar-driven imagining of everyone’s favourite Bolshevik’s childhood, chock-full of piano sweeps and not-quite singalong moments.

Band of Skulls – Death By Diamonds and Pearls (YSI)

I still haven’t got round to listening to this album, but if this song is anything to go by, it’ll sound like the White Stripes. A lot. I mean, everything about this song, from the vocals, guitar tone, crashing drums and even the skittering, twitching solo sounds like Jack and Meg. And in my head, that can never be a bad thing, it’s just badass from begininning to end.

Beirut – My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille (YSI)

Some didn’t take to it, but Zach Condon’s brief foray into laid back electonica made me a happy man. There’s something about the rising and falling of the underwater synths in this song, coupled with his idiosyncratic drawl that never fails to make me pleased, it sounds like a more chilled-out Hot Chip at times. If Zach ever decides to bring back his Realpeople alter-ego again, I for one will not be unhappy.

Beth Jeans Houghton – I Will Return, I Promise (YSI)

Another North-East entry, this time trying to wrestle the London-centric new-folk scene all the way up the A1. Ms. Houghton’s four track EP, Hot Toast Vol. 1 gave us an alternative to all those Southern softies (note: I am one) with a punchier folk lilt, with this opening track the standout.

Black Eyed Peas – I Gotta A Feeling (YSI)

Now, I understand this is a controversial choice for a blogger to make, but honestly, this is (to use the common vernacular) a CHOON. It always made me a little happier to be in a place playing crappy music, and when it was played in Newcastle’s coolest club (World Headquarters) by the coolest DJ (Tom), it vindicated my guilty pleasure. Plus, hearing Fergie sound like a fucking idiot when she shouts “Drank!” and “La chaim!” will never tire.

Bob Dylan – Must Be Santa (YSI)

To be honest, this is a favourite just because of how fucking insane it is. I hated it when I first heard it, but one more listen convinced me that polka + Dylan’s new voice = terrifying, hilarious, genius. It’s brightened up my whole Christmas.

Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – Thou Shalt Always Kill (De La Edit) (YSI)

It’s not as good as the original, but the sound of those synths and Pip’s Essex preaching accompanied by Posdnous’ classic flow was always going to be a good idea. “Thou shalt not think that having a blog makes you a journalist”. Oops.

The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing (YSI)

Time will tell if this band can get out of the one-trick-pony phase they seem to be in now, but their first single was my song of the summer. It’s an infectiously whistle-filled romp of post-punk surf pop that charmed many a blogger and even the discerning ears (read in sarcastic tone here) of Radio 1 for a time, albeit a long time after summer was over.

Esser – Headlock (YSI)

I really liked Esser’s album when it came away, but my interest waned after a few listens, it just seems to lack the real substance that a truly good album needs, but his singles were always winners, and ‘Headlock’ is no exception. Re-released to promote the album, it just jumps out at you, all mockney vocals and cheap-sounding synths and beats. It’s endlessly danceable and emininently catchy.

Good Shoes – The Way My Heartbeats (YSI)

The sample track from the Morden boys’ second album piqued my interest in them all over again, with a heavier, quicker sound, but retaining the jangling guitar tone and Rhys’ yelping vocals that I fell in love with. Brilliant.

Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks (YSI)

I’d never paid much heed to Grizzly Bear before this, the whole American indie sound is alien to my frosty British ears a lot of the time, but this the swooning vocals put over a sluggish stomping beat in this song just grabbed me, it sounds far more sinister than it should, and the video is bloody wonderful.

Little Comets – One Night In October (YSI)

This is an insanely cheery slice of debut single indie-pop from Newcastle’s favourite new bunch of smiling loons. Full of yelps and charmingly twee lines like ‘Just like Carlisle, she lies on the border‘, the band seem to specialise in gettingnunder your skin and getting you to twitch about, just like the song. They’re getting an increasing amount of love up north, and if they keep making songs like this I can certainly see that extending all over this fair green land and maybe beyond.

Local Natives – Camera Talk (YSI)

I haven’t got hold of their album yet, but Local Natives’ indie band version of Fleet Foxes’ harmonies along with an irrepressible quick-march tempo is just beautiful. The amount of instruments they get into this song without making it sound overstuffed is a masterclass in prudent songwriting.