The first time I listened to Phosphorescent’s newest album Here’s to Taking It Easy, I was immediately disappointed. I was walking home in the morning from a friend’s place and I had just finished listening to Matt Houck’s last offering of new material, 2007's super-chill Pride, and I wanted more of the same beautiful, harmonized folk walkabouts. So up came opener “It’s Hard to be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)” and I was met with an upbeat parade of string and horn charts. What the ***? This was not what I wanted and I was confounded, dammit. The lesson, of course, to take from this experience is thus: don’t trust your instincts when you’re hung over (and possibly still a little bit drunk). Here’s to Taking It Easy certainly is quite the different beast compared to Pride, don’t get me wrong, but to write it off for not being what I wanted it to be is obviously just stupid. It is clear that Houck has continued the train of thought brought up in To Willie, his tribute to country-folk legend Willie Nelson.
Most importantly though, this record shows Houck as a versatile songwriter, not one who safely sits in pretty chord changes and droning, lullaby melodies. Highlight, “The Mermaid Parade” showcases an alt-country twang reminiscent of early Wilco, with some excellent slide guitar. Houck sings that “our two years of marriage / in two short weeks somehow slipped away” encapsulating the lyrical themes of the album. Themes of love and lost, that while are not particularly original, are presented with an ever present honesty that is felt when Houck sings “love me foolishly” on “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)”. The song would be the most immediately enjoyable to fans of Pride, with its steady pulse and lovely, warm and familiar vocal melody. “Hej, Me I’m Light” is also an immediately lovable track because it is easily the most intriguing on the album. With the title being the sole lyric, the song is a layered slow burn that simply drips with tension. It is easily the most hypnotic piece of music I have heard this year.
Without the exceptional work of his backing band, Houck could have easily failed in his directional change. But the craftsmanship in the musicianship gives a fresh and vibrant sound to Houck’s natural ability to craft infectious and gorgeous melodies. While songs like “Heaven, I’m Sitting Down” may sometimes resemble too closely Bright Eyes circa I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, Phosphorescent is able to maintain distinction. This is certainly a Phosphorescent album, and while it is far more economical than Pride (only guitar rock solo fueled closer “Los Angeles” stretches past five minutes, at nearly nine), it is no less lovely or endearing. The problems that at times plagued Pride, most notably the length (re: titular closer), have inherently been fixed, however as with any direction change, new ones arise. Ultimately though, Here’s to Taking It Easy is worthy of the attention mastermind Matthew Houck pines for on “Los Angeles”. It’s every bit as chilled out and lovely as Pride was, but in a slightly different package.
it really is, I tried to put in some To Willie as well because this kind of seems like in between that and Pride. Los Angeles is really growing on me, though I think the guitar solo may be just a bit too long, I love the vocal harmonies in the chorus.