No, Muchacho may not push Houck into the mainstream – but it should.
Matthew Houck has up till now crafted five albums under his Phosphorescent moniker, his take on emotive, folk-tinged Americana always interesting, at times transcendental – yet he's never gotten the break his music deserves. Whilst swimming in the same sonic waters as Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes) and Ben Bridwell (Band Of Horses), he's watched on as his peers shot for the stars.
Sixth album, Muchacho, may not change this equation, which is a shame because it displays Houck at his most brave, confident and playful. As with most great albums, Muchacho stems from a tough period in Houck's life, but rather than laying down skeletal, heartstring-pulling fare, we are first confronted with Sun, Arise!, a hymnal driven by beautiful multi-layered harmonies and gentle synth. The interplay between more traditional compositions, such as the warm, countrified twang of Terror In The Canyons and these about-turns and edges of darkness are handled deftly. The songs are overloaded with adept musicians, incorporating strings, horns, piano, keys and electronica, and it all serves to knit together to hold Houck's songwriting aloft. And, as always, this is where Phosphorescent soars – interspersing songs of hope and redemption with dour, even menacing lyrics – “I could kill you with my bare hands” is uttered on Song For Zula, whilst on Muchacho's Tune Houck admits to mistakes like a flaying of the soul.
And when these elements all come to play on the same song, as they do on the beautifully haunting Song For Zula or the cathartic release of The Quotidian Beasts, the true brilliance of Phosphorescent comes into being. No, Muchacho may not push Houck into the mainstream – but it should.