By Catherine P. Lewis
Friday, March 22, 2013
Lo-fi indie-rock songwriter Matthew Houck channels a calm serenity on “Muchacho,” his sixth album under the Phosphorescent moniker. He crafts songs that are both forlorn and urgent, taking the sparse sorrow of lonely singer-songwriter fare and packaging it in the warmth of a rich arrangement.
Most obviously, Houck nods to Fleet Foxes with layered harmonies on “Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction).” Those measured, reverent vocals are paired with a jumpy, fleeting melody that skitters underneath Houck’s meditative singing, giving momentum to a sound that could otherwise just drone on.
The longest track, the expansive “The Quotidian Beasts,” sounds like a jam band song without the aimlessness, as Houck takes a trancelike guitar groove and accelerates it into a chaotic climax.
Houck sings with a nasal croon reminiscent of Vic Chesnutt on the album’s most memorable tune, “Song for Zula.” As his lyrics reference Johnny Cash, a haunting string melody swirls in the background, creating a rich tone and livening up the song’s leisurely tempo.
Houck’s approach doesn’t always work; the repetitive “Ride On/Right On” quickly becomes tedious with its overpowering, overly simplistic bass and percussion.
He makes up for it, however, on the next track, “Terror in the Canyons,” in which his twangy vocals convey a melancholy that’s matched by the fluttering horns in the background.
Mark Jenkins reviewed Phosphorescent's 2007 album "Pride" for The Washington Post:
"Mama, there's wolves in the house," sings Phosphorescent (a.k.a. Matthew Houck) in what may be the most representative line on his new album, "Pride." A onetime Georgian, Houck now lives in Brooklyn, but still pines for some mythic Appalachia. His songs overflow with references to blood, night, death and wild critters; the wordless (yet vocal) title song apparently was named for a group of lions, not anyone's self-esteem.
Like such kindred one-man bands as Palace and Iron & Wine, Phosphorescent ranges from stark, old-timey ballads to lush if eccentric soundscapes.
Guitar and banjo are sometimes supplemented by organ drones, near-random percussion and -- on such entranced dirges as "Be Dark Night" -- massed voices that resemble a church choir more than such pop antecedents as the Beach Boys. The effect can be lovely, yet seldom joyous. Gloomily self-absorbed, Houck can get so tangled up in religious imagery that a drug anecdote such as "Cocaine Lights" becomes a downer hymn. Phosphorescent is an inventive low-tech maestro, but "Pride" would be more engaging if most of its songs were wordless.