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Phosphorescent: Matthew Houck's Pride and Joy
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
When Phosphorescent's debut album, One Hundred Times or More, was released it was bulldozed with two common comparisons. Everyone dubbed Matthew Houck, who essentially is Phosphorescent, either 'the next Will Oldham' or 'the next Jeff Mangum.'
These comparisons continued to be laid out with the release of The Weight of Flight E.P. and Aw Come, Aw Wry. It's possible that the Oldham comments will never go away, but with the release of Pride, it's just as possible that Houck will soon have his own copycats.
He wrote all of the words and music, played all of the instruments and recorded the album himself. Some friends joined him for vocals on a few songs, namely, Ray Raposa (Castanets) and Jana Hunter on 'Wolves.' Might this lead to an indie supergroup in the future? "Absolutely!" says Houck, "Ray used to live in my building and Jana's on the east coast. We've talked about doing that."
Houck grew up in Alabama and later moved to Athens, Georgia. In the early days of playing music and traveling around to play shows, he slept in his truck. "I don't romanticize that at all. It was never a question of whether or not I would continue with music. It had more to do with whether it was worth paying for an apartment."
Houck decided to move from Georgia to New York while working on Pride. He now lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn but says after he finishes touring he may move again. "I like being a nomad. We didn't move around a lot when I was a kid," he offers.
His touring band consists of Scott Stapleton (guitar/vocals), Jeff Bailey (bass/vocals) and Ben McConnell (drums). "I don't know these guys. Well, one of the guys I have played with before. So, we spend a lot of time getting to know each other through music. We just listened to John Cale's Vintage Violence the other day in the car. That's a good album. I haven't listened to a lot of new music, just due to being wrapped up in making my record for the last year or so. I've been listening to different stuff, but lately lots of Lil' Wayne," says Houck, without a hint of irony.
Hopefully lots of people will listen to Phosphorescent's new record. It is the finest one yet and there is something about it that feels destined to become classic. So, would Houck be okay with a widespread audience and all that can come along with it? "Yeah, I think I am. I think a few years ago I might have been against that. I think this is a really good record and it deserves to be heard."
Pride has been in the making for a few years, and given that Phosphorescent released two albums and one E.P. in the span of three years you might suspect that this sort of time lapse would result in a double album or songs featuring an all star line-up of indie musicians. You would be wrong. Pride, as it turns out, is Houck's leanest album to date and finds him playing all of the instruments. The eight songs, clocking in at a little over 41 minutes, primarily deal with death, the afterlife and reincarnation and oftentimes parallel the life cycle of a romance.
The album doesn't quite kick off with “A Picture of Our Torn up Praise” so much as it wavers and lumbers along. The song is the sound of someone trying to get their bearings. Literally. "I don't want to take / and baby I don't want to break / and baby I don't want to try / and make you anyway," sings Houck, "I just want to lie down / tell my crazy brains to lie down / and then fall away." By the end of the song you realize that the narrator is dealing with the dissolution of a relationship. "I won't be the one / when all is said and all is done / I won't be breathing / like you breathe / into the light of day," is the conclusion found. “Be Dark Night” serves as one last quiet moment before the storm comes raging in. The serenity in the words, "Stand / alive / be dark night,' is countered by the ramshackle nature of the score. The song layers instrument upon instrument, voice included. There is a choir made of Houck's vocals, giving it a hymn-like feel.
“Wolves” serves as the moment of recognition. The end is very near and there is no sense in fooling oneself to the contrary. "Mama there's wolves in the house / Mama they won't let me out / and Mama they're mating at night / and Mama they won't make nice." The music begins with ukulele and gives way to harmonium. The warm rich hum of it all gives a hypnotic quality to the song that duplicates the lulling sensation overcoming the narrator.
"O in life / through many dark rooms / we must go," begins “At Death, A Proclamation.” The song serves as the narrator's dying plea. His last will and testament, of sorts. He concludes, "O love / tho one day I tarried too far / and I never came home / O love / always I carried your heart / married deep in my own." This is the album's most rambunctious track, a kick against the final prick. The music is punctuated by a drum line and Houck's voice reaches it's loudest and, surprisingly, most joyous level. '
If Pride were released on vinyl, this is the point where you would flip the LP and the needle would find the groove for side two. “My Dove, My Lamb” is perhaps the centerpiece of the album. Just shy of nine and half minutes, the song details all of the many things that are recalled while hanging around in the afterlife. "I remember when my dad would sing / hiding in the hallway / I am listening," recalls the narrator, before continuing with a view of life after your better half is gone, "So even in these cities where she's haunting me / even when my weariness is wanting me."
The last two songs on the album, 'Cocaine Lights' and 'Pride,' deal with themes of rebirth and reincarnation. "And Lord / truly I am awake / and Lord / truly I am afraid / and Lord / truly I remain," is the narrator realizing that he will continue to live, in some form or fashion and he is ready to begin this new life soon. In terms of relationships, it deals with finding someone else to relieve the pain of your past and the basic need to find some sense of feeling outside of the dull ache that is left when you are left alone. "In the morning / after the cocaine lights / I will miss you / more than ever," confides the narrator. The sentiment is steeped in truth, but the real truth is that he has begun to move on. "There is light that pours from new hips / there is beer that pours sweet through my lips" and "In the hallway / in a slip / she says 'hey don't you like my newest trick' / and I say 'yeah that's a pretty good trick / would you show me again'" serve as both brags and curses. Great as she may be, she's not her. In time it won't matter, because no matter who is around, he will be better. "I will recover my sense of grace / and rediscover my rightful place / yes and cover my face / with the morning."
Soon, this gives way to “Pride” which is essentially the sound of that literal reawakening and rebirth. More than just a series of yelps, screams and grunts, the song serves as the album's final chapter, but it is the first in the narrator's next journey.