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Phosphorescent - C'est la Vie (Album Review)

Friday, 19 October 2018 Written by Huw Baines

In the five years since the release of Phosphorescent’s ‘Muchacho’, Matthew Houck has been busy. He got married to musician Jo Schornikow, became a father, moved from New York to Nashville, rented a warehouse, built a studio from scratch with a salvaged ‘70s console, got really ill, survived, wrote an album, recorded an album, and subsequently released an album. It’s called ‘C’est la Vie’, and it’s different.

It’s not different different - we’re still firmly in a world of rich Americana, Toto - but Houck has come at his task from a new angle. Where ‘Muchacho’ was a grand, sometimes exhausted, statement by a man wrestling with too much booze and too many touring miles on the clock, its follow up is gilded with joy, fresh perspective and, lurking around the bend up ahead, trepidation and sadness. After all, it seems to say, what’s life and love without the knowledge that it doesn’t last forever?

‘C’est la Vie’ often feels like an invitation, or as though Houck is reaching out to us after a long period of time cloistered alone with his work.

Its themes are universal - My Beautiful Boy is a declaration of love for his son, New Birth in New England is about the chance meeting that changes everything, Black Waves / Silver Moon suggests wonder at the limitless space around us - but Houck’s had to dig into them solo before sitting down to talk them over with us.

He does his best to make these discussions plain. The album’s first words appear on its second song, the title track of sorts C’est la Vie No.2. Houck’s voice sits atop gentle stabs from a warm, inviting piano. “I wrote all night, like the fire of my words could burn a hole up to heaven,” he sings. “I don't write all night burning holes up to heaven no more.”

New Birth in New England, meanwhile, brings to mind Paul Simon’s Kodachrome in the manner its straightforward structure is rendered fabulous by the conversational beats of its lyrics and some dancing percussion. Houck relates his first meeting with Schornikow in a sort of keep-it-cool drawl (the way the word ‘piano’ slides from his mouth as ‘pianna’) and the fuse is only truly lit when its chorus lands: “She said, ‘Don’t I know ya? Honey, don’t I know ya?’.”

It’s a wonderful song that, if recent appearances on late night TV are to be believed, will only become more wonderful live. In many ways it’s the album’s centrepiece - it’s certainly its most outwardly expressive moment - but that’s largely because it comes bearing hope and romance where other moments look inward to find dark gaps.

There From Here, its immediate follow up on the tracklist, recalls ‘Tunnel of Love’-era Springsteen in its introspective melody. “If you'd have seen me last year I'd have said, ‘I can't even see you there from here,’” Houck sings. Christmas Down Under, too, has a desolate edge to its beauty drawn from the idea that real loneliness is found when you have people to miss.

Elsewhere there are guitar wig outs to pique the interest of War on Drugs fans (the eight minute Around the Horn), while the instrumental bookends are richly atmospheric and situate the record as part of something bigger: like they were playing when you wandered in and will continue after you pay up and leave. In between, Houck’s writing is honest, funny and almost faultlessly pretty. ‘C’est la Vie’ feels like a handy compendium of everything he’s tried so far as Phosphorescent only, you know, different.

Phosphorescent Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri October 26 2018 - LIVERPOOL Grand Central Hall
Sat October 27 2018 - DUBLIN Tivoli Theatre
Sun October 28 2018 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Tue October 30 2018 - LONDON O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire

Click here to compare & buy Phosphorescent Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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