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Phosphorescent - Pedal Steel Electronica
on 18 March 2013
Up until now Matthew Houck the guiding light behind the Phosphorescent moniker has specialised in warm slices of road weary Americana not least 2010's rollicking "Here's to taking it easy" and of course his earlier tribute to a great country outlaw "To Willie". There has always been in Houck however an inner Neil Young screaming to experiment and push the envelope. On "Taking it easy" hidden amongst the country rumble was "Los Angeles" a huge rolling beast of a song which really was a meeting of rustic Alabama and experimental Brooklyn combining Houck's own geographical journey from rural to urban. His new album "Muchacho" plays a different card derived from Houck's decamp to Mexico following relentess touring and exhaustion. The restless troubadour has therefore incorporated for the first time electronica in a big way into his songs and packed them full of undulating synthesiser arpeggios not least the opening shot of "Sun Arise - an invocation, an introduction" a sort of Fleet Foxes hymnal meets Aphex Twin oceanic beats and bass lines. The album is bookended by its counterpart "Sun's Arising "A Koan, an exit" essentially the same track but slightly more acoustic. If you love spiritual harmony tunes then this will push all your buttons but frankly for this reviewer one bite of this particular cherry was already pushing it and the second portion created musical indigestion. Much better is the splendid signature track from the album "Song for Zula". Here the combination of Houck's reedy voice and slabs of synth combine in a great song underpinned by soaring pedal steel. Everything is in its right place on this track and it should be the immediate target for a download. More traditional Houck territory is explored on "Terror in the Canyon" a lovely alt country anthem infused with bar room heartbreak while "Down to go" multiplies this by a factor of two. It is a good old country heartbreaker infused with a mournful mariachi trumpet solo winding through its passages infusing it with a border Rio Grande atmosphere. When Houck sings "Oh, you'll spin your heartache into gold,....but it rips my heart out don't you know" you feel the wounded hurt.
"Muchacho's Tune" is a road weary pastoral tune that proves that Stephen Fry's maxim that "It would be impossible to imagine going through life without swearing, and without enjoying swearing,". More powerful is the haunting "A New Anhedonia" which is a distant cousin of "Los Angeles" and contains Houck's best vocal, likewise the seven minute plus "The Quotidian Beasts" is tortured redemptive country and the hardest rocking track on the album. The problem is that amongst all this finery are tracks which really don't add much in the memorable tunes stakes not least the very repetitive "Ride on/Right on". As such on "Muchacho" Houck is to be applauded for his ambition but not always his execution. There is enough on here to place this album into the box marked "success" and it makes the next stage of Houck's musical evolution one well worth following.