April 12, 2013

Phosphorescent – Muchacho (2013)

I have been captivated by this album for the last two weeks or so now. Ever since I heard Matthew Houck’s “Wolves” sometime in late 2007 or early 2008, I have been loosely following Phosphorescent, but the last album unfortunately didn't warrant a review, so I think up until now, Phosphorescent has gone undiscussed on QCM

On Easter Sunday 2010 at The Independent in San Francisco (where I'll be tonight to see Portugal. The Man), White Hinterland and Bon Iver opened (yes, opened) for Phosphorescent. Most of the people in the audience were there for Bon Iver, specifically, and by the end of Phosphorescent’s set, most people had cleared out due to Houck’s shushing of the increasingly noisy Bon Iver following turned bar scene in the back. The gabbing during Houck's set was in stark contrast to the pin-drop silence Bon Iver was afforded. I hate when people talk during concert sets in small venues, so I have always had a somewhat special appreciation for Houck’s tender songwriting and fragile vocals, despite his hit-or-miss albums.

To me, Muchacho is Phosphorescent's most well-rounded album. The lyrics and songwriting across the board just seem more thought-out and less forced, albeit occasionally borrowed. “The Quotidian Beasts” seems to follow the chord progression of Chris Isaak’s "Wicked Game" – I even found myself mouthing “And I, want to fall in love” during the chorus build-up  and the single "Song for Zula" (below) leads in with a paraphrased reference to the infamous Cash-Carter "Ring of Fire" opening lines in singing "some say love is a burning thing / that it makes a fiery ring." Both are great tracks, and with each, the song takes on new and interesting shapes independent of the nods. My favorite of the tracks is "Ride On / Right On." With its head-nodding charisma and simplicity, "Ride On / Right On" paints a picture of what I view as a wild/fun, but ultimately unfulfilling, life and times. The core of Phosphorescent's sound is the facts that very few vocalists sing love-loss more convincingly than Houck, which may be his single most compelling attribute and shines through on tracks like "Muchacho's Tune," "Terror in the Canyons," and "Down to Go" – decrepit & touching enough that you just want to reach through the speakers and give the guy a hug. Well done on this one.