Muchacho by Phosphorescent
Some albums make you want to dance. Some make you want to laugh, or to cry. Or to blast as loudly as possible. Or wake up/fall asleep to. And then there are the albums that make you want to do all of those things. Muchacho is that kind of album. This isn’t an album — it’s a soundtrack for life.
Phosphorescent is Matthew Houck. Originally from Athens, Georgia, Houck has been making and playing music as Phosphorescent for over ten years now. Muchacho is his sixth record in that span. I didn’t discover him until his last album, 2010’s Here’s To Taking It Easy, which landed at #20 on that year’s Calendar. (Although looking back at that list now, I should have put it no lower than #11. Damn.)
You can define Houck’s music as country, acid rock, southern rock, or alt.country, but he’s somewhere in the middle of all of them. Keyboards, horns, violins and lap steel guitars play heavily throughout all of his music, and that’s no different for Muchacho. Houck’s voice is like a worn out tee, falling apart at the seams, the most comfortable thing you own. He has the perfect amount of laziness in his delivery, drug along reluctantly by the music laid out before him. Verging on a yodel but never quite getting there, he can sound like sad old dog or a wounded one, backed into a corner, depending on the story he is trying to tell.
And those stories, those yarns, are amazing. Typically about heartache and sorrow, the tales Houck tells can hit you in the deepest parts of your insides. Yet somehow the music isn’t depressing — it’s encouraging. His is a life lived hard but fruitful, a life best avoided but fantastic to vicariously live through.
As a fine capper for this year’s Calendar, you should now listen to Phosphorescent’s cover of Vampire Weekend’s “Ya Hey,” which Houck performed live on the air at KCSN (California State University, Northridge) on October 3. “Ya Hey” was the best song on Modern Vampires of the City, the #3 album of the year, and hearing it performed in Houck’s quiet drawl puts a dark, melancholy twist on the upbeat song. This could have very easily been a Houck original, it’s so different from the Vampire Weekend version.
2013 has been one hell of a year, a life-affirming, fucked up, killer of a year. For personal reasons, I can’t say I’ll miss it. But the music that’s come out of it, and the enjoyment it will bring me for many many years to come has made it much easier to bare. That music will undoubtedly remind me of the ups and downs of the year, and that will be just fine. As time goes on, the memories will smooth out, and the music will shine even brighter. Phosphorescent’s Muchacho will be with me the whole way.
When I write about each of these albums I tend to have them playing in the background. Tonight, as I went to flip this record over, in the middle of writing this article, I dropped it onto the top of the record stylus and put a big scratch down the middle of my favorite song, “The Quotidian Beasts.” Strangely fitting. It still plays, but with a terrible hiccup in every revolution.
I ordered a new copy immediately.
2. Trouble Will Find Me by The National
3. Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend
4. The Bones Of What You Believe by Chvrches
5. The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case
6. In Focus? by Shugo Tokumaru
7. Psychic by Darkside
8. AMOK by Atoms for Peace
9. White Lighter by Typhoon
10. Hummingbird by Local Natives
11. If You Leave by Daughter
12. Pedestrian Verse by Frightened Rabbit
13. The Silver Gymnasium by Okkervil River
14. The Next Day by David Bowie
15. Reflektor by Arcade Fire
16. We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic by Foxygen
17. Lanters by Son Lux
18. Howlin’ by Jagwar Ma
19. Impersonator by Majical Cloudz
20. Dream Cave by Cloud Control
21. Mole City by Quasi
22. Phantogram by Phantogram
23. Julia With Blue Jeans On by Moonface
24. Uncanney Valley by The Dismemberment Plan
25. Event II by Deltron 3030
26. Wise Up Ghost by Elvis Costello and The Roots
27. Us Alone by Hayden
28. Pure Heroine by Lorde
29. Shaking the Habitual by The Knife
30. False Idols by Tricky
31. Let’s Be Still by The Head and the Heart