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coverpic flag US - Alabama - Full Moon 203 - 03/27/13

Dead Oceans

1. '(MOO'-cha-cho), n. A Spanish word, largely used by Mexicans/Chicanos and Latinos, meaning - roughly - a mischievous young person (male). "Aiie, behave, muchacho!'
2. 'A humongous dork with a less than average sense of directions. Will often get you lost. Nonetheless, someone you want to stick around forever if your self-proclaimed nickname happens to be el the grache. "I freaking love muchacho".'
(Urban Dictionary)

Muchacho is Phosphorescent's (a.k.a. Matthew Houck) 4th album for the fine Dead Oceans label, some three years after his last platter; the big breakthrough album Here's to Taking It Easy (2010). Here's to... was hailed to the sky, and above, and landed quite high positions in many 'end-of-the-year' lists. After a short tour in Europe some journos compared Houck to Bob Dylan and Will Oldham. To include some other similar artist one might add John Darnielle's The Mountain Goats, Damien Jurado, Jason Molina (or his Songs: Ohia), yes, even Bon Iver. When Phosphorescent supported The National through three sold out nights at Brixton Academy, London in December 2010, The Independent gave 5 out of 5 points and called the show 'a sublime, joyous gig'. And, London's Evening Standard named Houck 'The most significant American in his field since Kurt Cobain'. Nothing less.

Matthew Houck - an Alabama native, now a Brooklyn resident - started performing under the moniker Fillup Shack, but turned to Phosphorescent and put out his debut album, A Hundred Times or More (on Warm Records) in 2003. Aw Come Aw Wry (2005) was released by the Misra label, before Dead Oceans became his new home. The country/southern gospel/folk-sounding Pride (2007) made people notice Phosphorescent. He took the country further with his next album, To Willie, which was a tribute to country legend Willie Nelson, and he kept on to the country rock and Americana track with Here's to Taking It Easy. Muchacho seems to be a more low-down, dark mooded, and soul-tinged record. And, yes, it's quite a beauty!

The opener "Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)" sets the mood just right, like this is a gateway to the land of dreams, with Muchacho being the soundtrack to the slumbering, greener pastures. The gorgeous "Song for Zula" follows, being the perfectly lulling sound of a gently flowing stream. Great, and a brilliant pick to promote Muchacho in prior to the album's release. Singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer - and an Artist with a capital A - Houck hasn't left his country'n'folk expression; just check "Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)", "Down to Go", or "Muchacho's Theme". The album is a warm and colourful journey. Here's melancholia and sombreness, here's sensuality and seductivity, here's profundity and creativity. In addition to the vocals, guitars, tangents, and all the standard rock instrumentation (well, here's even some Mariachi brass, as well - probably an inspiration from when Houck bought a ticket to Mexico, where he spent a week "...with a guitar and got a little hut on the beach in Tulum, on the Yucatan Peninsula..." writing songs for this album), Houck has added some ambient rhythms and electronic texture. Still, he mentions artists such as Waylon Jennings and John Prine when talking about classics. And, when it comes to Phosphorescent's music, it's a well-balanced mixture of 'old' and 'new' music styles. Like Houck says on buying some old analogue gear, starting "...playing around with it, making these noises.. [...] ..they were just strange sound pieces. I've always had that element in my work, and one or two weird, ambient pieces seem to squeeze themselves onto every record, but suddenly I was doing a lot of those." Especially the opening three songs are proof of this; the aforementioned "Sun, Arise! ..." and "Song for Zula", plus "Ride On/Right On". Another Houck quote goes: "I was thinking I might make an ambient record that had vocals, but no lyrics". He ended up with a weight on the latter. The closing "Sun's Arising (A Koan, An Exit)" puts an excellent end to a marvellous album, even it's more like a sky-red sunset than a sunrise.

The three quarters of an hour spent in company with Muchacho is pure magic and a perfect chill time. I guess Muchacho is one of the finest albums of the year, with three quarters of a year remaining.

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