#3. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy
Phosphorescent (Matthew Houck) has made a number of albums, each one embracing lo-fi storytelling and recording. He could go from jaunty country, to Americana ambience, to covering The Beatles, Willie Nelson or Nick Cave. All this practice built up Houck’s skills, and leads directly to Here’s To Taking It Easy. This album approaches many of the same areas as his earlier works, but does so with a growing ease. Where some of his other albums and songs had a ramshackle fragility to them, Here’s To Taking It Easy is full-blooded and shimmering with confidence.
The songs here are quite often road-weary, with a lot of far-off cities, and wishing to be somewhere other than the place you are. Over upbeat soul horns, long slide guitar breaks, barroom piano, Houck sings of travelling, of everywhere starting to look the same, blurred together. “We’ll Be Here Soon” and “Heaven, Sittin’ Down” explore further the struggles of the road: “Oh I wish I was in heaven, sittin’ down / I wish the road we were taking / Wasn’t made for breaking down.”
Naturally, being on the road means leaving someone behind. In “Heaven, Sittin’ Down” he even tries to call her on an “old foreign telephone.” On “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly),” he is wistful: “Well I wake in the morning and I dress / I hang that charm of gold around my neck / And I haul to her window and I look / And I crawl on inside and wake her up / Singing love me foolishly / Love me foolish-like.” Clearly, a dream, a hopeful wish that carries him through. Will he ever get back to her? There’s lots of doubts about that. The brilliant “The Mermaid Parade” is a story of a man missing a flight to LA, where he could have met up with his love, Amanda. Instead, he’s left in New York, and their “two years of marriage in two short weeks” is but a memory, a gigantic loss over his head. When he ends the song, “God damn it, Amanda, oh God damn it all,” it explains everything.
Whether these subtle and simple stories, fun lyrics like “I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing,” or tapping into gospel, country, or whatever is necessary for the song, Houck’s confidence has kicked Phosphorescent into another level entirely. After his last album, which was entirely covers of Willie Nelson songs–pleasant, but whatever–this turn is stunning. Maybe exploring Willie Nelson pulled something out of Houck, I don’t know. But whatever happened, Here’s To Taking It Easy is as perfect an album I have heard this year.