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May 18th, 2013

Phosphorescent – Muchacho


I heard Phosphorescent for the first time in a friend’s London flat the morning after a night in Koko. He had his record player set up and we listened to it eating gnocchi and sun dried tomatoes. The needle swung to “Wolves” and began playing. It was obvious right away the song would be a catalyst to begin pouring over the rest of Phosphorescent back catalog (it was).

Phosphorescent is the moniker of broken voiced American singer-songwriter Matthew Houck. I’d say he sits somewhere between Bon Iver and Bonnie Prince Billy. Airy, acoustic instrumentation, optimistic sweet melodies, heart-felt lyrics and a voice that sounds on the brink of failing completely but is never in any danger of doing so.

So now it’s about 6 years on and I’m listening to latest album while doing a bit of gardening. It was a nice soundtrack to relaxing, digging and pulling dandelions out of the lawn (they returned two days later). Perhaps that’s because after returning from touring his last album, Houck retired to a small town in Mexico to walk, swim and be free of the pressures of the music industry. Piecing together the musical threads in his mind that had been drowned out over the preceding years, a sketch of Muchacho took shape.

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The album is in a word, beautiful. Working alone for the most part, Houck’s recordings are singular and coherent visions. Musicians are brought in which add extra life and might have stopped it sounding to introverted, isolated or stale. The recordings have space in abundance, simple effects like reverb and echo are used to great effect on each track. First song Sun, Arise! sounded like this album might take us on a diversion into more electronic sounds with a synthetic sounding arpeggio and massively layered vocals. This doesn’t happen however, and I’m pleased about that. Phosphorescent clearly hasn’t finished mining the rich musical vein he hit upon and that we’ve been used to hearing on previous albums. Celebratory track A Charm/A Knife is a joyous song with brass and drums and marks the mid-point of the album, a high before the more thought provoking Muchacho’s tune. It’s a song that seems to be about making amends, leveling out and returning to life, reflecting the journey that brought him to this album. It finishes the way it started, with a layered, choir-like hymn with minimal instrumentation, long and sustained, a final exhale.

It’s an entrancing album from start to finish, it will slow your breathing and seems like it’s actually freshening the air you breathe. It’s not an album that feels self-conscious or that worries you might miss something. Sounds are pushed back, left soft and subtle. As such, I’m sure there are plenty of hidden hooks and lyrical gems that I’m still yet to find. I’m going to enjoy discovering them, and can see this being the soundtrack to many nights in, road trips, and days in the garden yet to come.

Phosphorescent Muchacho is out on Dead Oceans, 2013.



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