While making the follow-up to her debut album Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose, Beth Jeans Houghton experienced a creative block that led to scrapping an entire album's worth of songs, dissolving her band the Hooves of Destiny, and the creation of a new musical persona: Du Blonde. Her first album under that name, Welcome Back to Milk, proves that this is more of an identity opportunity than an identity crisis. While she possesses a silvery voice that would sound right at home on album after album of Yours Truly's ethereal folk-pop, her transformation from Beth Jeans Houghton's soap bubble iridescence to Du Blonde's biker jacket toughness is surprisingly effective. She wastes no time establishing her new outlook: the title of the opening track, "Black Flag," may be an homage to the hardcore punk band, but its thundering riffs owe more to Black Sabbath and her wails evoke Rid of Me-era PJ Harvey. Her vocals have more than enough power to stand up to Marshall stacks, and their lingering sweetness creates a distinctive tension with the aggression surrounding it; it's unlikely that "What a shitstorm/what a fucking nightmare" has ever been so clearly enunciated before. Similarly, as convincing as Welcome Back to Milk's fury is, Du Blonde's rock is no more straightforward than Houghton's version of folk was. Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose's songs shifted constantly, and some of the more lavish songs here suggest a darker incarnation of that album's technicolor whimsy. Brass, hand drums, and Middle Eastern modalities embellish the wild-eyed intensity of "Chips to Go" and "If You're Legal," while "Raw Honey" adds a sexy, dangerous edge to Yours Truly's twinkling chamber pop. Houghton also interprets Du Blonde's independence into ballads, whether it's the direct, confessional lyrics of "After the Show" or "Isn't it Wild"'s dreamy exploration of identity and perception. Still, Welcome Back to Milk rings truest when Du Blonde is wildest: "Young Entertainment" borrows from surf rock and girl group pop as Houghton fashions withering kiss-offs into hooks that are barbs. "Mind Is on My Mind," a fever dream about cruising the Pacific Coast Highway, allows her to bang her head and trill like a songbird before Future Islands' Samuel T. Herring -- one of the few indie singers who can match her acrobatics -- sweeps in with a perfectly over-the-top cameo. Moments like these are fantastic in both senses of the word; while something suggests Houghton isn't done surprising her listeners, Welcome Back to Milk is so intriguing that they'll be impatient to hear whatever she has to offer.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares