Phosphorescent Reaches Spiritual Heights With Muchacho

If ever there were a song to make you feel zen and at ease with your place in the world, it is “Song for Zula,” the 6-minute-long single from Phosphorescent’s newest album Muchacho. Lead into by “Sun, Arise!”, an album intro that feels like a morning stretch with its elongated harmonies, “Zula” is the meditation that comes right after. The rippling bass line and breezy strings bring front man Matthew Houck to the level of space rock, the territory of musical astronauts like Spiritualized front man Jason Pierce.

Where Pierce experiments with noise and disorder, however, Houck invests more in beauty of the bright, organized kind, and this album of redemption and revival is both Phosphorescent’s best yet and one of the most well-crafted this year. Although not a concept album per say, Muchacho does center its 10 songs around similar styles and themes, building off of the soulful country-rock of 2010’s Here’s To Taking It Easy. The roots are still there, in the almost-gospel choruses of “Sun, Arise!” and the outro “Sun Arising,” the sweetness of the pedal steel guitar in “Terror in the Canyons,” and the chugging, driving rhythms of songs like “Ride On/Right On.”

But Muchacho isn’t grounded the same way its predecessors were. In songs like “Muchacho’s Tune” and “Zula” especially, Phosphorescent uses horns and synths to draw out the melodies like sunlight streaming in through windows, voicing the instruments as he might a choir (besides the choir he already uses). Even in the downtempo moments, such as the understated and glacially paced “A New Anhedonia,” Houck’s voice carries through as a soothing preacher. It’s an ultimately triumphant album, and, claiming as he does in “Zula,” “I am not some broken thing / I do not lay here in the dark waiting for thee,” Phosphorescent achieves the personal redemption he seeks.

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