Though it sounds paradoxical, upon first listen I found Muchacho — the sixth album by Phosphorescent, Matthew Houck’s musical moniker — to be annoyingly placid. Surely an album that evokes such contentedness must be lacking in depth, right? Isn’t good art necessarily the product of emotional extremes? Wrong.
While Muchacho addresses the usual topics — lost love, failed relationships, terrible mistakes — it does so from a refreshingly different vantage point. Whereas The Antlers’ Hospice drops the listener right in the midst of emotional tumult, Muchacho is more reflective. It is the voice of someone who has experienced those ups-and-downs, and can now look back and be okay with everything. On the opening track, “Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)”, Houck proclaims, “Sun a-rising, ease, easy-oh / Dark as I been, ease, easy-oh.” This clichéd yet resonant and evocative image introduces the album’s most recurrent theme: redemption. Being conscious of one’s past, considering it, but not dwelling on it.
Sonically, the album perfectly mirrors these themes. There is a certain warmth and wholeness to the production. All of the instruments, which range from horns and violins to guitars and layered vocals, seem to melt together into an effortlessly gorgeous whole. The sheer beauty of the music reaffirms that this is indeed a hopeful album, but Houck’s optimism is not rooted in ignorance; rather, it is a product of his experiences. On “Muchaco’s Tune,” arguably the centerpiece of the album, he says “Hey, I’ve been fucked up and I’ve been a fool / But like the shepherd to the lamb / Like the wave unto the sand / I’ll fix myself up to come and be with you”. The neutrality and objectivity that persists throughout the album is more powerful and reassuring than it initially appears. He is not apologetic, nor is he defensive.
This is an album about moving on without forgetting the past, about learning from one’s mistakes and being conscious of one’s faults to ensure happiness for one’s future. While this is a cliché, clichés are clichés for a reason: they contain an arguably universal truth. Houck manages to take this truth and personalize it in such a way that it becomes not a hackneyed, heavy-handed annoyance, but a lush, life-affirming work of art.
Original Author: Sun Staff