Phosphorescent (thank goodness for copy and paste) is really the front for singer songwriter Matthew Houck, from Alabama, who has been around since 2003. That said, it has been sometime between drinks, with five years since his last critically acclaimed album Muchacho.
Listening to Phosphorescent for the first time, it was hard to stop the mind from wandering onto more meaningful tasks that were at hand, like washing the dishes and thinking what was needed when venturing out to the supermarket. However, upon closer inspection and a few more plays, it wasn’t hard to pick the influences of 70s folk, with a mixture of Cat Stevens, Paul Simon and, more latterly, Monsters Of Folk, all rolled up nicely in nine tracks with Houck’s own interpretation.
The opening track, Black Moon/Silver Waves, is an atmospheric introduction of wailing voices and keyboards, somewhat setting the scene of what might be to come. Thankfully that was all it was, because C’est La Vie No 2 starts off with staccato keys and wavy keyboards offering a soft mellow feel, if not making the listener a little drowsy. Not in a bad way, but more like the feeling of the last rays of the summer sun on your back knowing it’s time to head home, but snatching another lazy five minutes before you rouse yourself to go. It has a Cat Stevens folky feel and, after a few more listens, is not a bad introduction to what is to come.
New Birth In England really lifts things up a notch and it’s hard not to think of Paul Simon here and the influence he has had on this very catchy fun track. It would make a strong contribution to a beach playlist with its simple lyrics, which bridge into a slower harmony of angels just for good measure. It is the best track on the album.
There From Here brings the tempo back down with a steel guitar giving a nod to the Nashville influence that is sprinkled throughout most of the album. It has a nice beat and this is where Houck’s vocals shine just a little more. While not so much of a standout compared to the previous track it still sits well in the order of nature.
Houck then lets his hair down a little more with Round The Horn. The driving beat and searing vocals and guitars turn this into something you would play along one of those long straight roads in the Nevada desert. Going for more than eight minutes you can’t help but imagine yourself pressing down a little harder on the accelerator pedal as you speed along to this song.
It’s at this point you start to get what this guy is all about and, while the album feels like popping on your old comfy pair of slippers, the more times you listen the more it actually sounds pretty fresh as well.
But it doesn’t always work. Christmas Down Under is an example of this. It feels slightly dreary and the use of voice harmonics does little to improve the constant droning of the chorus. I suspect he has never had a Christmas down under because the title doesn’t fit what’s inside the tin on this one.
My Beautiful Boy and These Rocks restore some order but don’t capture the feel that was presented at the beginning of the album. It’s not that they are bad it’s just they go deeper into the southern country influence and, while delicate in places, they bring the brightness down a notch or two.
The same can be said for the disappointing final track Black Waves And Silver Moon. Another atmospheric instrumental that seems just a little self-indulgent and, going on for over six minutes, suggests that he may have just run out of ideas at the end.
An album then that is filled with promise and for those hearty fans there is much to enjoy and celebrate I suspect. But for me it didn’t reach its full potential. C’est La Vie.
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Released: 05 Oct 2018