by Chris Familton
Matthew Houck (Phosphorescent) has proven to be something of a prolific and mercurial songwriter since his third album Pride caught people’s attention in 2007 with its stark and heartfelt folk songs. Since then he confessed his love for Willie Nelson before further embracing country music on Here’s To Taking It Easy. Muchacho is a shift from the musical themes of those records, taking in more diverse textures and occasional electronic flourishes. Through these changes Houck’s talent as an emotive writer still rings true.
Muchacho opens with Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, an Introduction), a hymnal welcome that marries twinkling kosmiche synths and Silent Night melody. As a statement of intent it sets the listener up perfectly for what follows. Song For Zula visits the dramatic string-laden landscapes of Mercury Rev circa Deserter’s Songs and it isn’t until Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master) that our feet return to a more familiar countrified Phosphorescent. This exploration of new sonic textures is something that Bon Iver has toyed with and more recently the likes of Daughn Gibson who successfully married country and electronic forms. The good news is that Houck has indulged his curiosity sparingly. The songs still shine through the new dressage, whether it is the bouncy horn-led A Charm / A Blade or the graceful choral sway of A New Anhedonia there is always a strong focus on Houck’s fragile songs regardless of how he frames them musically.
If Here’s To Taking It Easy felt like an interstate road trip in the fading glow of summer then Muchacho’s mood is one of the rich tapestry of music that embodies those cities, from gospel to country rock, jazz to folk. It is a rich and rewarding world that Houck has conjured and one built on drama and grace.
this review was first published in The Drum Media / themusic.com.au