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Phosphorescent - The perfect soundtrack for dusty highways and by-ways
on 28 October 2013
"Muchacho del Lujo" is an expanded version of Phosphorescent's 2013 release combined with a glorious live concert from an intimate pre-release live show recorded at St. Pancras Church in London. "Muchacho" is an album that was born out of a domestic crisis and recorded on the beach in Tulum, on the Yucatan Peninsula. It represented a culmination of Matthew Houck's musical outpouring following a relentless touring schedule and exhaustion. The troubadour has incorporated for the first time electronica and new textures in a major way into his songs and packed them full of undulating synthesiser arpeggios. Yet behind this remains a true voice, one that is wounded and often hurt but glories in the simple wonders of life and eschews self-pity.
A guilty confession and mea culpa also from this reviewer. Upon reflection, my posted original review of the album was cast to early and was too dismissive. Part of the reason for this was the presence of a number of stellar standout tracks on first listens that almost seemed to crowd out the surrounding music. Yet over time, the sum of the parts become the whole and you grow to love them all dearly. Equally the approach of bookending the album with two essentially same hymnals not only felt a tad "Fleet Foxes" but seemed to cheat the record of other songs. This deluxe version of the album fully addresses this not least with the glorious largely piano-led live versions and lets the original album breath properly.
For those approaching for the first time the splendid signature track from the album "Song for Zula" is the Song of 2013. Houck's threadbare road-weary voice against the backdrop of slabs of synths is superb and the lyrics are emotional darts. The killer opening verse is a case in point where he declares "See, honey, I saw love/You see it came to me/It puts its face up to my face so I could see/Yeah then I saw love disfigure me/Into something I am not recognizing". The piano-led version on the St Pancreas disk is also plain gorgeous. More traditional Houck territory is explored on "Terror in the Canyon" a lovely alt-country anthem infused with bar room heartbreak. "Down to go" multiplies this by a factor of two with the piano version bordering on heartbreaking. When Houck sings "Oh, you'll spin your heartache into gold,....but it rips my heart out don't you know" you feel the wounds. On repeated listens the song "The Quotidian Beasts" is every bit the equal of "Song for Zula" in its epic hard-edged scale. The tremendous crescendo fires the songs conclusion to such a level that one reviewer has described it "Houck's "Cortez the Killer," a sawed-off saga that rolls like a midnight rambler with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue". On another level the song that precedes it "A New Anhedonia" is as brilliantly wrecked as anything from "On the Beach" and draws you back time and time again. The St Pancreas version is slowed down almost to silence. It is joyous also to hear the wonderful versions of previous Houck classics not least "My dove, my Land" and a ten-minute version of "Wolves" which is too precious for words and possibly better than the original. The whole musical feat is rounded off with an emotionally fraught version of the great "Los Angeles" the magnificent highlight of 2010's "Here's to taking it easy" confirming Matthew Houck as one of America's new musical giants.
The best American music blogger Heather Browne recently described "Muchacho, as squally and dirt-streaked, it's threadbare and greedy, it's weary and pugnacious, and it is a perfect soundtrack for that drive across America's dusty highways and bye-ways". She is right since it is an album that reeks atmosphere and soundtracks human wreckage with tender care. It is now accompanied by a brilliant set of live versions and much more besides. Please seek out this rewarding gem.