Sixth full CD from Matthew Houck — aka Phosphorescent — is close to a masterpiece. Deftly weaving multiple genres — indie folk with a touch of trip hop, barroom blues rock, alt country, and even inspirational hymnals — every track on Muchacho bores into your soul. The lyrics, often vocalized with a rawness that hints at the desperation Houck felt when he created this CD, document a life in disarray. Themes range from determination, “See, Honey, I am not some broken thing/I do not lay here in the dark waiting for thee” (from “Song for Zula”) to resignation “See I was slow to understand/This river’s bigger than I am/It’s running faster than I can, though Lord I tried” (from “Muchacho’s Tune” — FCC, requires editing to play). The musicianship is excellent throughout. A wide array of critics are hailing this as one of the best releases of 2013. Give it a listen.
Recommended: ALL — but start with 2 (fabulous!), 3, 5, and 8. FCC on 6
1. (3:10) Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction) — Opening hymnal. Synthesizer with Chariots of Fire sensibilities and church-like vocals soaring on high.
2. (6:10) Song for Zula — Indie folk, underscored by synthesizer strings with trip hop beats. Houck’s plaintive vocals speak of lost love and a search for strength. *****
3. (3:45) Ride On/Right On — Blues rock. Growling guitar and rock and roll organ. Synthesized boots and spurs stomp out the beat, and Houck’s vocals are heavily reverbed.
4. (4:06) Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master) — Alt country with a light beat and more traditional instrumentation. Mournful steel guitar. Piano. Soaring vocals and intriguing lyrics.
5. (5:20) A Charm/A Blade — Starts softly with hymns, but evolves into an up-tempo folk-rocker with exuberant chorus, horns and honky tonk piano.
6. (4:20) Muchacho’s Tune — Feeling of a standard played in a bar in South Texas or just across the border in Mexico. Raw and real with steel guitar and horns in lead break. Warning! FCC. “I’ve been f-cked up, and I’ve been a fool.”
7. (4:04) A New Anhedonia — Weary indie folk. Vocals allude to Houck’s stark despair. Fleet Foxes harmonies in chorus. Piano-based with horns and just a hint of steel guitar at times.
8. (7:04) The Quotidian Beasts — Hauck channels Willie Nelson at his most desperate. Pounding piano, horns and scorching guitar rise and fall after each verse. Epic!
9. (5:16) Down to Go — Indie folk-rock ballad confronts aching reality of loneliness and wonders how one goes on. Hauck’s breaking voice “spins [his] heartache into gold.”
10. (3:19) Sun’s Arising (A Koan, An Exit) — Closing hymnal. Somewhat more hopeful lyrics and uplifting in tone, with an ending chorus that strains as it reaches for the heavens.