AFTER­GLOW

Seven al­bums in, US singer’s slow-burn­ing magic just gets bet­ter.

Q (UK) - - Review -

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.

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