Review Summary: A damn fine folk-infused indie-rock album perfect for a lazy afternoon.
Matthew Houck has been releasing albums under the nom de plume Phosphorescent since 2003′s A Hundred Times or More. Fast-forward ten years and here we have Muchacho. It’s the product of Houck’s escape to Mexico after the critical success of his fifth effort, the ironically titled (at least in retrospect) Here’s to Taking It Easy. It’s a delightful combination of chamber-pop and those staple indie-rock sensibilities, and a fitting culmination of Houck’s work in the years prior.
From the outset, ‘Sun, Arise!’ sets a calm mood, with a beautiful vocal arrangement that literally serves as a morning chorus. It’s an incredibly bright sound, and single ‘Song For Zula’ fuses a wonderful violin refrain with a synth bass-line and a drum machine. It might sound like a horrible concoction in theory, but in reality it works wonderfully. In fact, it’s this synth/drum machine spine that Houck forms his songs around in the early part of the album. The trend continues on ‘Ride On / Right On’, Houck showcasing his distinctive cracked, off-kilter vocal style behind a fuzzy backbeat. ‘Terror In The Canyons’ draws upon Houck’s upbringing in the West – it has a definite country feel, most of the ‘modern’ instrumentation is dispensed with to some degree for some gentle and welcome nostalgia.
‘A Charm / A Blade’ has great single potential, switching between an introspective opening to a big finish. In many ways, it recalls a less bold/loud Arcade Fire, infused with some Harvest-era Neil Young. Indeed, Houck cherry picks from a slew of influences – the likes of Bon Iver is fairly evident here too. Traditional Mexican themes are also woven in on the likes of ‘Muchacho’s Tune’ (surely a by-product of where Houck spent the past few years) to add a fresh twist to the record’s melting pot of folk, chamber-pop, Americana, indie rock and even country. The album winds back to ‘Sun Arising’ – revisiting the album’s first track – providing a setting sun for an album that ultimately recalls a sunny afternoon (*feel free to add your own Ray Davies quip here*).
All of Muchacho has a warm and inviting feel, but it’s Houck’s talent for and instrument choices and their arrangement that allows the record to avoid being a mere homage to past styles and worn-out concepts. Rather, Muchacho transcends all this by drawing old and new concepts together to craft a damn fine folksy indie-rock album.