For a long time, all I knew of Phosphorescent was “Cocaine Lights.” I’m not sure how I came across it, but I think I know why I latched onto it — it’s one of the best coming-down songs I can remember hearing. I’m a sucker for these. They’re music’s way of helping us survey the wreckage after a storm, or wade through the emotional spillage that results from a fight, or decide whether the pizza that nobody was thoughtful enough to put in the fridge is still edible the next morning. These songs are dried up, distilled, naked, and honest, hurting and soothing in one languid motion.
If I’m being honest, I need only have heard the first line of “Cocaine Lights” to place the song in this sacred category. Matthew Houck pours oceans into those 7 words — “In the darkness/After the cocaine lights” — with a craggy voice that sounds like poetry when it climbs down the scale. In fact, the tonal topography of the phrase tells a story by itself, peaking quickly and then stumbling down rocky terrain. The rest of the lyrics might as well be a bonus, given that just 33 seconds into the song, I’m already where I need to be. Sober and rattled, regretful and removed. This may even be the reason I hadn’t sought out more of Houck’s music — those first 7 words gave me more emotion to chew on than most artists can serve up in 7 albums. But I’m happy to say that Houck’s new effort, Muchacho, has awoken the sleeping Phosphorescent fan inside me.
A few days back, I saw an All Songs Considered tweet relaying how good Houck’s new material sounded at SXSW, so I did some googling and wound up listening to “Song For Zula.” I happened to be feeling down at the time, and lo and behold, there was that familiar and graceful sense of deflation, the same craggy descending notes — all the stuff that made me fall for “Cocaine Lights” so hard. All the stuff that makes it feel good to feel like crap. But “Song For Zula” is beautiful in its own ways, with a warm bed of synths and strings, an achingly absent chorus, and enough rumination on love to last you a lifetime. And it’s long, 6 luxurious minutes of stewing in related ideas, each verse crawling back into the mix like the one thing you wish you would have said when the moment was right. I can’t put it down, nor can I recommend it highly enough.
The rest of Muchacho came out today, and I’m especially excited to explore its peaks and valleys after reading that Houck started working on these songs at a time when he was exhausted from touring and had “checked out of [his] life for a while.” Sounds to me like a recipe for some quality coming-down music. Check out “Song For Zula” below and click here to buy the whole enchilada.