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Matthew Houck’s sixth album as Phosphorescent underwent an odd, protracted gestation.
Exhausted following a lengthy stint touring 2010’s acclaimed Here’s to Taking It Easy, the Alabama-born singer-songwriter returned to Brooklyn and bought a bunch of old analogue gear.
Duly equipped, he began cooking up “strange sound pieces”. “I was thinking I might make an ambient record that had vocals, but no lyrics,” he says of this period.
A sudden, unexplained domestic crisis forced his hand, however, leading to an impulsive trip down to Mexico’s Yucután peninsula in the opening months of 2012.
He spent a week there, living in a beach hut and working on his songs, before returning to New York and restoring some sense of order to his life.
At its best Muchacho reflects this yearning for tranquillity, offering the listener a window into Houck’s fuzzy and bruised yet generally hopeful mindset.
Song for Zula is a remarkable thing. Coasting on soft, electronic beats and programmed strings, Houck imparts a devastating clutch of verses that undermine the notion of love as something transcendent and divine.
Instead, he paints it “a caging thing ... a killer come to call from some awful dream”. A sense of the hurt it was presumably born out of lingers strong, completely at odds with the music it rests upon. The effect is mesmerising.
Songs like Ride On / Right On and A Charm / A Blade don’t fare quite so well. The former is built around a two-note riff and an insouciant, yelping vocal that is especially jarring in the wake of something like Song for Zula, while the latter lapses into classic rock cliché just a little too wholeheartedly.
Yet Muchacho’s Tune is as frank and lovely a promise of redemption as you’re likely to hear all year. Weighty, elegant music is a more natural fit for Houck, as songs like this and A New Anhedonia emphatically confirm.
Over the back-end of the LP he heads deeper into this kind of sweeping territory, brushing aside earlier missteps. Muchacho is a vibrant, evocative LP, and a welcome addition to the Phosphorescent catalogue.
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Top Customer Reviews
I'm not in a position to compare this to other Phosphorescent albums, but I think Muchacho is a very good album indeed, with thoughtful, haunting and intelligent songs, beautifully arranged and - in their idiosyncratic way - very well sung. The instrumental backing is rich, electronic and very beautiful. There is a mixture of the mournful and the hopeful here, and a mixture of styles, too, held together by the slightly cracked, mixed-back and multi-tracked vocals which I found very expressive and affecting.
I think that there are some things about this album which remind me of Leonard Cohen. Now, I know it sounds absolutely nothing like a Cohen album, but Matthew Houck has the same ability to write a straightforward but lovely tune and to put things into extremely evocative, sometimes elusive words. The brilliant Muchacho's Tune is a good example - haunting, self-excoriating and in search of redemption. I don't want to push the comparison too far because things like the vocals and overall sound here and on Old Ideas, for example, couldn't be more different but I do think he shares some of Cohen's genius for conjuring insight and feeling in a song. I mean that as the highest praise.
This was a surprising and delightful discovery for me, and I'm now off to seek out some of Phosphorescent's other work. It's a really fine album and warmly recommended.
I played it most for Christmas and into the New Year. I had to rate it the top album of 2013.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Really good album. I probably prefer the Live album but this is still great.Published 10 months ago by J. Boyle
cracking - bought it randomly having heard the stunning Song for Zula and not regretted it at all.Published 15 months ago by Tom
this was a revelation of last year;one of the few records in the lists of best of the year that I think deserved the honor;the music feels like dragging you in, lets you lie down... Read morePublished on 13 Mar. 2014 by Nikolaos Oikonomidis
Sadly the recording is flat and lifeless (like many modern recordings - probably compressed to death). Some decent tracks for the car but not for the recording quality.Published on 31 Jan. 2014 by A. Moore
Never heard of these until Green Man Festival 2013. Not that I actually went to see them - only read about how good they were on the forums after the festival. Read morePublished on 16 Jan. 2014 by The Old Dead Pig