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Phosphorescent - Pride

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Artist: Phosphorescent

Album: Pride

Label: Dead Oceans

Review date: Nov. 9, 2007

Let's get this out of the way: Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck sounds like Will Oldham. It's a shame to have to bring it up, but it begs to be addressed, as Bonnie Billy's lengthy career of lo-fi country has set the standard for any musician trying to display their depression through twang and a cracking voice. But there is a difference between being derivative and carving one's own unique niche in an established sound, and with Pride, Houck’s third full-length, he proves that a quality record can transcend comparisons and precedents. Let's move on…

About halfway through recording Pride, Houck packed up and headed to Brooklyn from his home in Athens – a big move, considering that his Georgia pals contributed quite a bit to his prior releases, cultivating horn choruses and rambling clutter amid Houck's crackling blues. He recorded pretty much everything on Pride himself, save for the guest vocal harmonies from the likes of Jana Hunter, Annie Palmer, Liz Durrett and Nat Baldwin. The lack of outside collaborators and that party-time Athens vibe has solidified Houck's sound, though; the Neutral Milk Hotel vibe from 2005's Aw Come Aw Wry is history, having given way to dark, isolated beauty delivered in a bleary state. Houck exposes the vulnerability inherent in this album's namesake with a lonesome irony, creating a record from the perspective of a broken man battling internal adversaries over the course of a restless night, searching for cigarette-stained refuge from the troubled solitude.

“A Picture of Our Torn Praise” opens the album/evening with sleepy whispers, layered voices illuminated by orange motel lights - hopelessly depressed, but comfortable with the loneliness. “Tell me where you been and I will tell you where I been,” Houck croons with a muffled attitude, punctuated by an indifferent “It will be all OK.” The scene is set immediately, the notion of "pride" assembled and dismantled.

The balance between skillful songwriting and resonating instrumentation is best showcased on "Wolves," which pits Houck's exhausted narration against a softly swirling bed of double-tracked mandolin, plodding bass drum and air organ drone. It works similarly well on the nine-minute "My Dove, My Lamb," an ode to the love that keeps Houck slowly pacing the halls. The track runs a bit long without variation, but that appears to be the point: "I will keep repeating ‘til they understand, my dove, my dove, my lamb."

The production efforts here are just as important as Houck's masterful songwriting, evoking an inviting glow of riverside revival, the smell of honeysuckle weaving into sparse percussion and piano breaths. From the abrupt tape cut at the end of "At Death, A Proclamation" to the staggered rattles of "Be Dark Night," Houck invites an acceptably flawed element into the mix – convincingly authentic and warm to the touch. It all melts together in a slurred waltz of late-night yearnings, loose psychedelia hanging in a thick haze. Twilight howls and emotional yelps culminate in the album's last track and namesake – the voices that linger with the listless insomnia. “And Lord, truly I am awake. And Lord, truly I am afraid. And Lord, truly I remain …” And as Pride fades out with the arrival of morning, it's clear that Houck has created a personal masterpiece, an honest and humble record that will surely outlast the painful hangover of a sleepless night.

By Cole Goins

Other Reviews of Phosphorescent

The Weight of Flight

Aw Come Aw Wry

To Willie

Here’s To Taking It Easy

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View all articles by Cole Goins

Find out more about Dead Oceans

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