Caught by the River


Will Burns | 27th March 2013

Will Burns shares his thoughts on Muchacho, the latest LP from Phosphorescent.

When a new record comes out by an artist you really love, there’s that heady moment just before the first track starts. A little like the moment before you move in for a kiss, it’s a moment pregnant with a definitively youthful blend of feelings – doubt, anxiety, excitement, hope and it’s a moment where somehow all your previous knowledge counts for nothing. Whatever your true age, in that moment you’re transported back to a time where all that mattered was the odd great record, discovering your favourite writers, driving around with your mates and all that ephemeral teenage dream stuff. Maybe it’s because it is so redolent of youth and memory that pop music, more than any other art form, retains such a potent hold on us culturally. There’s nothing quite so joyous and invigorating as a new musical discovery.

And so it with this sense of trepidation that I first begin to listen to the new album from Phosphorescent. The first two or three tracks of Muchacho form an exquisite, archetypal album opening. Not only establishing one or two familiar artistic tropes, in this case songwriter Matthew Houck’s chant like lyrical cycles and washes of dreamy vocal harmonies, but also introducing a couple of new ideas. And these are the footholds that truly excite the already existing fan. So for example here, when the Springsteen-circa-Tunnel of Love (for my money, the Boss’ best era) drum machines and flickering synths kick in at the start of Song for Zula, I’m sold. Sold hard. And when the rest of the record washes over me, I’m not disappointed. This album is an epic extension of 2011’s Here’s to Taking it Easy, with the same hazy cocktail of Southern-state shimmer and hard-won romanticism that combine to create Houck’s easy charm and what feels here for all the world like Houck’s defining artistic statement.

There has always been a razor-sharp poetic intelligence lurking behind this band’s shirt-sleeve aesthetic of the road-worn slacker, and submerged in the booze soaked, brass-driven chug of a track like A Charm/A Blade or the steel-guitar and brushed snare of A New Anhedonia is a lyrical combination of doubt, pride and redemption whose profundity dovetails beautifully with the fragile instrument that is Houck’s voice. The cracks and fragility of which seem amplified as they build in layers over pianos and guitars and ghostly “oooohs”.

So I’ll raise a glass to another summer of extended adolescence with this as the soundtrack. Dust and barbecue and driving vans and swimming down by the river somewhere. Here’s to all that. Here’s to taking it easy.

Buy now.