Release Date: Oct 5, 2018
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Like many, I can still vividly remember the moment I first heard its six minutes of cradling euphoria. It is one of those tracks that just has to be shared and upon it finishing I immediately ran through to play it for my fiancé, now wife, whose reaction was equally as emphatic. It would, in fact, go on to be played at our wedding. Phosphorescent 's music was no longer the privileged sanctuary of a select few, Matthew Houck's sun soaked country rock was deservedly receiving widespread critical acclaim, his songs becoming a comforting embrace for scores of newly devoted fans.
Matthew Houck - aka Phosphorescent - is an intriguing character. His last record, the sublime Muchacho, was a triumph of experimentation. The album was composed mainly of greasy heartland rock and dusty Americana sounds, but with a haunting, despondently delicate edge. Words can't really do justice to the subtle, cumulative difference that record made on quite a few folks in the Spring of 2013.
Matthew Houck made no mistakes in choosing his album title, C'est la Vie. Returning for his 7th album as Phosphorescent, one struggle looms omnipresent over all others: acceptance. However charmingly and gently he puts it, after all, it is a struggle. Houck has always known how to spin a graceful tune, the magic here is the faded sadness behind his positivity.
Five and a half years have ticked over since Phosphorescent's last album, Muchacho, a punishing period for many. The warmth and comfort of Matthew Houck's records somehow seemed to make more sense back in the halcyon days of spring 2013, but upon this return, perhaps his presence has never been more needed. C'est La Vie returns us to Houck's familiar territory: the gentle delivery, the slow build, the ambling pace, the Southern hospitality.
Maybe it was Pro Tools. Perhaps it was the post-Napster access explosion. Or it may have been the slow spread of Neutral Milk Hotel, Wilco, or even Bright Eyes. But at some point after the turn of the millenium, every block and every burgh seemed to sprout its own home-recording, achy-voiced strummer, ready to reorient their tunes with field recordings, hip-hop edits, swirling arrangements, Max/MSP processes, or a personal Wrecking Crew of session musicians.
In 2013, singer/songwriter Mathew Houck released Muchacho, his sixth album as Phosphorescent, which would become a career-defining moment for his music. The album immediately outsold everything he'd made in the decade-plus leading up to it, and reached more listeners as well. Though there were months of touring, major life changes occurred, and Phosphorescent dimmed to a flicker as Houck and his new partner left long-time home in Brooklyn to start a family in Nashville.
T he first words Matthew Houck sings on the seventh Phosphorescent album are "I rode all night," on top of a chord pattern borrowed from the triumphant sax climax of Thunder Road. Are we in for peak Bossdom here? No: the chords of C'est La Vie No 2 are played on layers of keyboards and acoustic guitar, and there's no triumphalism. It's one of a couple of places on C'est La Vie where one is put in mind of another artist trading under a group name who has filtered heartland rock through the mindset of psychedelically inclined indie: Adam Granduciel.
With the release of "C'est La Vie" (Dead Oceans) Friday, Phosphorescent has officially entered the realm of dad rock. Literally speaking, this is singer and songwriter Matthew Houck's first album as a parent; between the release of 2013's remarkable "Muchacho" and "C'est La Vie," Houck got married to musician Jo Schornikow (who has joined the studio and touring band), moved from Brooklyn to Nashville, became a father of two, and built a studio. But also, there's a sense of stability about "C'est La Vie" that wasn't there before.
It's been a wild five years for Phosphorescent. He's traded New York for Nashville, become a father (twice-over) and looked death in the eye, following a battle with meningitis. But from it he built this album, in a studio he built with his bare hands. 'Black Moon/Silver Waves' roars into life, it promises us witches, wolves and wild things.
"I was drunk for a decade," sings Matthew Houck on These Rocks, a lilting country lullaby about laying down self-imposed burdens. For a decade and a half now, Houck has been recording as Phosphorescent, running the gamut of Americana's ever-broadening expanse, from eccentric alt-folk to upbeat stompers (even to a Willie Nelson tribute album). His last record, 2013's Muchacho, was a high born of hard living and hard touring: during its making, he told Pitchfork, he'd "lost the place, lost the girl, and lost my mind".