Release Date: Mar 19, 2013
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Sitting down to listen to the latest from Phosphorescent, I armed myself with a blank notepad and a stack of CDs: Richard Buckner and Bonnie Prince Billy, American Music Club’s California and some early Chris Whitley. By the last reverberations of Muchacho’s closing hymn, my scribbled notes were buried beneath books by Malcolm Lowry and Barry Hannah and I’d pulled an entirely different pile of discs off the shelf: Blood On The Tracks, Joshua Tree, Grievous Angel and Robbie Robertson. Yeah—Muchacho aims that big.
When Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck came off the road in support of his last album, 2010's Here's to Taking it Easy, he was mentally and physically exhausted, uncertain he wanted to make another Phosphorescent record. So he dispatched himself to Tulum, a small community in Mexico, where, he said, "I just checked out of my life for a while. " As he took long solitary walks in the woods and swam, the pieces of what would become Muchacho began taking shape in his mind.
PhosphorescentMuchacho[Dead Oceans; 2013]By Rob Hakimian; March 21, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetPhosphorescent’s last album was called Here’s To Taking It Easy. It was hard to know whether to take Matthew Houck’s statement at face value or whether there was a certain irony to it. On the one hand you had sentiments like “love me foolishly” and “I don’t care if there’s cursing” suggesting that he was indeed finding it easier to be more care free, and then on the other hand you had the soul crushing heartbreak of songs like “The Mermaid Parade” and the deceptively upbeat tale of a desperate man in “Heaven, Sittin’ Down,” amongst others.
Three years after the twangy Here’s To Taking It Easy, Phosphorescent’s Muchacho channels a domestic crisis into an album that is as eclectic musically as it is painful lyrically. There are experimental beauties (the majestic “Song For Zula”), but Matthew Houck is at his best when he returns to familiar sounds (the soul-bearing “Terror in the Canyons [The Wounded Master]”). While there are moments when the music is upbeat to the point of distraction from the anguish of the lyrics, as Houck can attest, it doesn’t make heartbreak suck any less.
While Matthew Houck would not be strictly classified as a country musician, he's taken a wonderful lesson from country about range of emotion. Muchacho, his latest album, swings from heartbroken to celebratory and back again, sometimes within one song. There are the yelps of joy or surprise that adorn "Ride On/Right On," the title a mixed message all on its own.
Under the name Phosphorescent, indie country songwriter Matthew Houck has walked a drunken path, wobbling closer to the indie side on some records and slumping more toward the country side on others, with the best example being his 2009 collection of Willie Nelson covers, To Willie. With sixth album Muchacho, Houck returns to some of the experimental textures that marked his early breakthrough album Pride, weaving ambient tones and feral whoops throughout his sometimes shiny, sometimes grizzled Americana. The album is bookended by tracks "Sun, Arise!" and "Sun's Arising," meditative drones with multi-tracked layers of Houck harmonizing with himself, ushering the listener into and out of the record over arpeggiated synth tones and far-off-sounding instrumentation.
Here’s To Taking Things Easy. It may have been the title of Phosphorescent’s last album, but it’s obviously not a mantra that Matthew Houck believes in. 2013 marks his 10th anniversary as a recording artist, in which time he’s released six albums, supported the likes of The National, and, of late, become something of a fixture on Hollywood soundtracks.
PhosphorescentMuchacho(Dead Oceans)Rating: 4 out of 5 starsStream This Album “Song For Zula,” the second track on Phosphorescent’s sixth album Muchacho, begins with a line cribbed from the Man in Black: “Some say love is a burning thing/ and it makes a fiery ring.” For those paying attention to Matthew Houck’s output up to this point, this shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. In 2009, he released To Willie, an entire album of Willie Nelson covers. And Phosphorescent’s 2010 track “It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)” tipped its Stetson to Mac Davis.
There are derivative songwriters, and then there are guys who warrant comparisons to countless others simply because they deal in musical forms that have been around for decades. Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck falls into the latter category, but that doesn’t mean he’s been excused from adding new elements to his sound. With his first five albums, the Alabama-raised, Brooklyn-residing Houck tended to navigate country- and folk-based territories that evoked contemporaries and all-time luminaries alike (Neil Young, Will Oldham, and Conor Oberst to name a few).
At first, it was a real struggle to get into Muchacho. Living in the UK, I was listening to it with snow falling down outside and it just didn’t fit. Then spring finally arrives, there are few clouds for once and I can see some bright thing in the sky, I think people call it the Sun, but I’m not used to it so I’m not sure. And Muchacho clicks.
There's a calm confidence throughout Muchacho, the sixth full-length from Phosphorescent and fourth on Dead Oceans. Matthew Houck (the man behind the Phosphorescent moniker) isn't afraid to spread his wings and let his loose Americana vibe move towards uncharted waters. Houck displays his maturity in his sense of restraint; he could've easily taken artistic liberties with Muchacho, allowing his evident desire to push the boundaries of Americana turn into an indistinguishable ball of fuzz.
Matthew Houck has, as musical entity Phosphorescent, always been just outside clear definition. He’s equal parts eccentric noisemaker and singer-songwriter. His breakout album, the bittersweet and solitary Pride, didn’t offer any hint at its follow-up, the earnest Willie Nelson tribute To Willie or the rollicking country-rock of 2010’s Here’s to Taking it Easy.
Matthew Houck's old-vine voice grounds Phosphorescent, distinctively gnarled and complex. Muchacho, however, shifts the focal point to his pained songwriting and commanding band. A decade in, the Brooklyn transplant continues surveying his back roads of New Weird America: "A Charm/A Blade" reprises the broken, one-man choir that surfaced on his third LP, 2007's dark Pride; "Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)" follows the crooked country of tribute disc To Willie; and the title track's drunkard's waltz extends the narrative of "The Mermaid Parade" from 2010 breakout Here's to Taking It Easy.
LOW“The Invisible Way”(Sub Pop) Low has always been a gospel group, by fiat if not for its actual content. Its music — hushed, syrupy indie rock that’s ecstatic in a roundabout way — isn’t religious per se, but it does embody reverence as well as any soaring operatic solo or monster-power choir. That was the band’s selling point in its early years, but lately it’s evolved.
While discussing the title of his sixth Phosphorescent album, Muchacho, Matthew Houck told CMJ that it was still a vague notion to him, not something that he could fully wrap his head around. “Maybe you call your buddy muchacho,” he said. “But it’s got a little cut to it, a little bite to it.” Houck’s music has always had a little bite to it, despite its seemingly tasteful, Americana trappings: the hushed guitars, the scraggly beard, the downtrodden imagery, the occasional horn section, the album of Willy Nelson covers.
In the Phosphorescent story, Muchacho could be seen as the next step in a (very) loose thematic continuum. If the spit-and-sawdust swagger of 2009’s tribute album To Willie represented the party at the end of the low-lit, introspective isolation that characterised Pride (2007), Muchacho suggests the (relatively speaking) good times that fired up Here’s to Taking It Easy (2010) have crashed to a halt. There are many lyrical allusions to heartache and partings.
A vibrant, evocative LP, and a welcome addition to the Phosphorescent catalogue. James Skinner 2013 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.
There’s always something warming about cover art that really conveys the sounds you’ll find within it. The coalescing of the art and music creates something intensely satisfying. It’s the feeling that a lot of time and passion has gone into every intimate detail. It gives the album its own unique and distinct feel.That’s what Phosphorescent’s ‘Muchacho’ does.