Multi-instrumentalist Matthew Houck seems slightly bashful about attaching his given name to his recorded output.
Nearly a decade and a half ago, after relocating from his native Alabama to the inspiration-rich environs of Athens, Ga., Houck self-released his debut album, Hipolit, but cloaked his identity under the band-like pseudonym Fillup Shack. Houck soon decided his philosophical musings would be better served under a new banner so he changed his musical sobriquet to Phosphorescent and charged off into the Indie Rock wilderness with a sound that suggested an even more tremulous Jim James using his Baroque Folk/Pop expanse as therapy for exorcising his multitudinous demons.
The first three Phosphorescent albums earned great critical praise, particularly 2005’s Aw Come Aw Wry, which was lauded for its conceptual vision and Ambient Americana vibe and scolded for creative self-indulgence in the form of the album’s 19-minute thunderstorm-during-a-car-ride closing track. Phosphorescent seemed to coalesce with Houck’s relocation to Brooklyn, N.Y., and his Dead Oceans contract, resulting in 2007’s almost universally acclaimed Pride. After a slight detour with 2009’s To Willie, an atmospherically dusty tribute to Mr. Nelson, Phosphorescent roared back with Here’s to Taking It Easy, Houck’s first album to feature a full studio band, which channeled the Red Headed Stranger and Neil Young, among others, to an effective degree.
But that album’s drug-and-alcohol-fueled tour came at a cost; Houck lost his studio space and his girlfriend and he put Phosphorescent, as a recording entity, on the shelf.
A trip to Mexico helped focus Houck’s attention to getting his life back on track and in doing so, the songs that would comprise last year’s triumphant Muchacho presented themselves. With its wide-ranging sweep of Country-tinged ballads, twangy Ambient Gospel, mournfully dusty Electronica and moments of blissed out Rock, Muchacho was hailed as a career-defining album (Paste named it Album of the Year) as well as a set that was both brilliantly appealing and lyrically anguished and unnerving.
We can consider Houck’s intentions for his next studio missive in some murky future, but for now we can only anticipate which level of excellence he will attain with the live translation of Muchacho. Will Phosphorescent be fantastic or merely great? Either way is a win.
PHOSPHORESCENT will play Madison Theater at 8 p.m. on Sunday, June 15. Tickets/more info here.