C’est La Vie by Phosphorescent
The number one album of 2018 is by Matthew Houck, aka Phosphorescent, and it’s not the first time he’s enjoyed the top spot of the Top 31. His last album, Muchacho, was #1 back in 2013 (and the album before that was #20 in 2010, one of many rankings over the past 10 years that I clearly misjudged at the time).
When I started ranking 2018’s albums at the end of December, and I grouped my potential #1 albums together, I groaned. I knew I needed to put Chvrches and Phosphorescent at the top — they were my definite favorites from the year — but had real reservations about doing so because they’d both been #1 their last time up. I’d successfully avoided having any repeat #1 albums in the past, as I think it makes a statement about the band and my tastes I’m not quite willing to accept: am I too predictable, stuck in the musical rut of middle age?
C’est La Vie, Houck’s 9th studio album, and his first in five years, is every bit as good but very different from Muchacho. That’s because Houck is in a vastly different space than he was five years ago (and so, too, am I). In that span, he managed to have not one but two children, get married, and move to Nashville. While his previous albums have been chock full of heartache, pain, and suffering, C’est La Vie bubbles with life and happiness.
Just listen to the track above, “New Birth in New England.” This is not the voice of a drunkenly depressed man, this is bouncy joy. Smack dab in the middle of the song, the bridge is a quiet moment — the slide guitar slows down, the hymnal angel chorus chimes in, and the familiar woosh woosh woosh sound of a sonogram, that first heartbeat that expectant parents hear, proving that there’s life growing inside the mother’s belly, wafts up from the depths. If you haven’t yet been through pregnancy, then that sound may not be familiar to you. But as a father of two, it’s oh so familiar, and comes with such joyous weight, it’s hard not to well up with happy tears any time I hear it. The specific recording on the song is from the first time Houck heard his own daughter’s heartbeat. Magical.
Later on in the album, the song “Beautiful Boy” plainly states the subject of the song — Houck’s now five-year-old son. It’s an ode to every parent’s everlasting fear of being unable to protect their children enough. It’s gut-wrenching and wonderful at the same time. The music of Phosphorescent always seems to pull at those dual strings, but in the past the direction being tugged has been downward. It’s a lovely feeling, finally being pulled in the other direction by a voice I’ve been loving for so many years.
One of the great joys of marriage is being able to share all the things you love, and having your partner fall in love with some of those things as well. My wife patiently tolerates my constant music playing, and she often likes what she hears. She will latch onto certain sounds, especially if they’re loved by the children as well. Phosphorescent held a special place in my heart long before I met my wife, so it was with even more joy than usual that I excitedly watched her own blossoming love of the band. In November, I got to take her to her first Phosphorescent show, and Houck did not disappoint. His performance of “Wolves” (which I managed to record), is performed solo, and shows the full range of his vocal talents. After the song’s few verses, Houck pushes his voice through a repeater, layer upon layer, until it mimics the pack of wolves he sings about. It’s gorgeous and deeply moving.
C’est La Vie has a special power. It feels innocent enough your first couple times through. But then you catch yourself humming the tunes when you’re not listening, filling in the quiet moments with little spoken phrases you can’t quite place. You invariably hear yourself, question the little tune’s origin, and then finally put it together. It surprises you like a random toy left out that’s imbued with the power of phosphorescence — you forget it’s there until you turn out the lights.
Pick up C’est La Vie. And then every other album Phosphorescent has released. After ten years of charting my Top 31 of the year, I can honestly say there’s never been someone as consistently good as Matthew Houck. Join me while I rejoice in his music; you will be pleasantly rewarded, every time.
2. Love Is Dead by Chvrches
3. Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) by Car Seat Headrest
4. Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
5. The Horizon Just Laughed by Damien Jurado
6. Chris by Christine and the Queens
7. Wanderer by Cat Power
8. Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett
9. The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs by Wye Oak
10. Ruins by First Aid Kit
11. Cocoa Sugar by Young Fathers
12. Loner by Caroline Rose
13. Big Red Machine by Big Red Machine
14. I’ll Be Your Girl by The Decemberists
15. The More I Sleep the Less I Dream by We Were Promised Jetpacks
16. Joy as an Act of Resistance by IDLES
17. Hell-On by Neko Case
18. Superorganism by Superorganism
19. Living in Extraordinary Times by James
20. Thank You for Today by Death Cab for Cutie
21. Black Panther: The Album by Kendrick Lamar
22. Suspiria (Music for the Luca Guadagnino Film) by Thom Yorke
23. Merrie Land by The Good, the Bad & the Queen
24. Room 25 by Noname
25. WARM by Jeff Tweedy
26. God's Favorite Customer by Father John Misty
27. Vessel by Frankie Cosmos
28. For Ever by Jungle
29. Twerp Verse by Speedy Ortiz
30. Remain in Light by Angélique Kidjo
31. This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet by Moonface