Now, normally I run a mile from too much comfy feel good music, but Phosphorescent is something different. For one, Matthew Houck can play the “feelings” card better than most.
A new Phosphorescent LP and that can only mean one thing: that you’ll be listening to a beautiful record. Muchacho sets its stall out pretty much from the off with a veritable salvo of velvety, sepia-tinged tracks, choc-full of harmonies and cloying mid-tones and rich textures. Sun, Arise (An Invocation, An Introduction), Song for Zula and Ride On / Right On envelop the listener in a warm, soft world, one where it’s safe to share your innermost thoughts. And it doesn’t stop there, some tracks moving towards a pure pop sound, indeed on A Charm / A Blade it seems the mask has cracked to reveal the wearer: Houck seemingly joins Abba – that easy, hopeful melody contrasted with a bittersweet subject, the lashings and lashings of choral vox, the happy clappy beat; the game’s up.
Now, normally I run a mile from too much comfy feel good music, but Phosphorescent is something different. For one, Matthew Houck can play the “feelings” card better than most. And there’s enough in the lyrics – and in some of the frankly baffling song titles - to suggest that he’s not someone who just relies on his way with a pretty melody: “kill you with my bare hands”, or “I can be the devil” “I’ve been fucked up, I’ve been a fool” spring to mind, and then there are lines about smashing things up, losing his temper etcetera… In that respect it’s classic Country & Western: the loner boy growing up the hard way and learning humility through life’s simple lessons.
Before you start retching into a bucket, it must be said that Houck also has a brilliant knack of making the most mundane event sound like something life changing: it may be tear jerking stuff, but to be fair to him, it’s believable; you don’t think that any of the emoting is for effect. But most of all it’s that warm, cracked voice that lifts his music out of the ordinary. He sings in a manner that just takes no prisoners, and what with a rich dollop of harmony thrown in pretty much everywhere, it’s difficult not to be won over, especially when the music dovetails with the message, as in the brilliant A New Anhedonia or the The Quotidian Beasts, which blossoms out into a tough, increasingly impassioned confessional.
So in retrospect, it’s nothing we’ve not heard before, and there’s been a lot of this winsome, elegiac 60’s / 70’s country rock in recent years. I also don’t subscribe to the consensus that simply making a beautiful record is a good thing: at times you’d like to hear something a little sparser or rougher… music like this can suffocate, but that’s only a minor quibble. You could say, if you wanted to pick a fight (the wrong one IMHO), that Houck treads very safe ground. You can’t really argue with any of the songs, or the way that Phosphorescent sings them. It’s pretty bloody impressive, this LP.