Lazy, hazy Americana and exquisitely crafted folk-pop songs.
Leonie Cooper 2010-05-24
It’s hard to believe that Matthew Houck – the one-man band otherwise known as Phosphorescent – is based in New York. Upon hearing his latest dose of lazy, hazy Americana, the fact that he was born in Alabama comes as no shock. The wide open heartland of the South rings out throughout these nine tracks, but the taut urban tussle of New York? Sonically it doesn’t even get a look in, despite the fact that in tracks like The Mermaid Parade – about Coney Island’s yearly procession of aquatic freaks – it holds its own in the lyrics.
It’s not that Here’s to Taking It Easy is a rural sounding record, as there’s definitely an urban edge present in its alt-country lunges, but that city is Los Angeles, and – to be more specific – the LA of the late 1960s and 1970s. In a post-Fleet Foxes world, it seems that acts taking their inspiration from the verdant nooks and crannies of Laurel Canyon are everywhere: from Local Natives and The Low Anthem to Mountain Man and First Aid Kit. But Phosphorescent’s contribution to the new-folk cannon is an impressive and rather lovely addition.
Opening with It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama), the scene is set through its perky, Magic Numbers-style bounce. “You can hear me Alabama / I can hear you when you’re calling my name,” chirrups Houck against Muscle Shoals horns, sounding if not a million miles away from the self-consciously hip sound of Brooklyn, then at least a thousand, which is roughly the distance from New York City back to the state of his birth. With its flamenco guitar breaks and gentle campfire coo, We’ll Be Here Soon ventures further into modern American mythology, with Houck morphing into a wandering, balladering cowboy packing a hipflask full of longing; which is something you don’t really expect to see on the L train to Williamsburg. Hej, Me I’m Light proves there’s more strings to Houck’s bow than just exquisitely crafted folk-pop songs and whispers of Neil Young, whose Unknown Legend refrain hangs through the back of Tell Me Baby. A four-and-a-half minute experiment in semi-transcendental chanting, Hej… is a song that goes nowhere and everywhere all at once.
There’s a certain irony in the album’s closing track. Entitled Los Angeles, you’d expect extra added sunshine and beers in the Hollywood Hills riffing, but it is instead one of the glummest tracks on the album. Even so, Phosphorescent positively glows.