I’m not a big fan of recording artists deciding they want to experiment in the studio. In the hands of a gifted producer it can work, but too often it is the sound of an artists with too much control making a bad job of it with all the tools at their disposal. In the last few years I’ve been disappointed by Chan Marshall smothering the life out of her songs on Sun and Justin Vernon making his songs sound like Enya on his heavy handed second album as Bon Iver. I was therefore a little worried that Matthew Houck had blown it when I first listed to ‘Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, an Introduction)’, the electronic heavy first song on his latest album as Phosphorescent.
I shouldn’t have worried though, Houck is much too skilled a producer and arranger to let the tools get in the way of the music. Second track ‘Song For Zula’ is also heavily treated but is unmistakably a Phosphorescent track and stands up against any song in his back catalogue.
Beyond that the songs wouldn’t sound entirely out of place 0n 2010’s Here’s To Taking It Easy and showcase Houck’s fragile vocals and layered arrangements beautifully. ‘A Charm/A Blade’ is a case in point as pedal steel, piano, horns and multi-layered vocals manage to sound tired and epic all at the same time, a great center point to the album.
‘The Quotidian Beasts’ picks up the 7 minute epic reins from the previous album standout ‘Los Angeles’ and does it with some style, wailing guitars battling against mournful violins, another superb piece of arrangement. These songs are not just well arrange and played, the compositions are superb and the downbeat oblique lyrics never less than interesting.
Muchacho ends with an alternative (and more successful) version of the opening track ‘Sun’s Arising (A Koan, an Exit)’, neatly wrapping up a superb record and giving us another early album of the year contender.
By Dorian Rogers