Seven albums in, US singer’s slow-burning magic just gets better.
PHOSPHORESCENT C’EST LA VIE DEAD OCEANS, OUT 5 OCTOBER
Fifteen years on from making his first album as Phosphorescent, Matthew Houck hasn’t quite achieved the success of his US peers – his music never being quite as clear-cut as, say, Bon Iver’s sonically-contorted folk or The War On Drugs’ tripped-out drive-time rock. Instead, Houck has traded in effects-layered, dreamworld shades of country rock but, most importantly, hasn’t yet enjoyed a breakout song. A lot has happened to Houck in the five years since his last album, Muchacho: a move from New York to Nashville and, more dramatically, a near-death bout with meningitis. What the latter seems to have brought to his music is more focus and vitality. The result is his slickest and best-produced record yet: all warm beats, electric piano and weeping, reverb-y pedal steel. The upbeat push-and-pull hooks of the ’ 70s Paul Simonechoing New Birth In New England is the earworm moment here, a shaggy tale of meeting a piano-playing woman in a bar who claims she witnessed the singer’s delivery as a baby. Tone-wise, it’s an anomaly though. Most of C’est La Vie is rooted in the calm resignation of its title, Houck’s recent experiences clearly having resulted in some kind of reflective wisdom. In These Rocks, he closes the book on a decade of drunkenness, while in the title track he looks back on how hard he drove himself as a songwriter in the past: “I don’t write all night burning holes up to heaven no more.” Not that it sounds like Houck’s passion has diminished in any way, particularly as the pulsing rock of Around The Horn motors on for over eight minutes, but never outstays it welcome, thanks to its gorgeous Fleetwood Mac-style layered harmonies. If anything, that track and the beautiful, slow-burning There From Here bring him closer to the sound of The War On Drugs and, perhaps, a bigger audience. The sound of Phosphorescent still isn’t immediate, but give it time, and C’est La Vie will slowly work its charms on you. ★★★★ TOM DOYLE Listen To: New Birth In New England | There From Here | Around The Horn
It’s great when you radiate: Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck.