album reviews

Dead Oceans (2013)

Kindred spirits: Damien Jurado, Will Oldham, Vic Chesnutt.

Lo-fi indie-rock songwriter Matthew Houck channels a calm serenity on "Muchacho", his sixth album under the Phosphorescent moniker. He crafts songs that are both forlorn and urgent, taking the sparse sorrow of lonely singer-songwriter fare and packaging it in the warmth of a rich arrangement.

Most obviously, Houck nods to Fleet Foxes with layered harmonies on "Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)". Those measured, reverent vocals are paired with a jumpy, fleeting melody that skitters underneath Houck's meditative singing, giving momentum to a sound that could otherwise just drone on.

The longest track, the expansive "The Quotidian Beasts", sounds like a jam band song without the aimlessness, as Houck takes a trancelike guitar groove and accelerates it into a chaotic climax.

Houck sings with a nasal croon reminiscent of Vic Chesnutt on the album's most memorable tune, "Song for Zula". As his lyrics reference Johnny Cash, a haunting string melody swirls in the background, creating a rich tone and livening up the song's leisurely tempo.

Houck's approach doesn't always work; the repetitive "Ride On/Right On" quickly becomes tedious with its overpowering, overly simplistic bass and percussion.

He makes up for it, however, on the next track, "Terror in the Canyons", in which his twangy vocals convey a melancholy that's matched by the fluttering horns in the background.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 22 March 2013.
.: Muchacho on