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A review of...

C'est La Vie by Phosphorescent

Date: 
October 5, 2018
Writer: 
Adam Millard
7.0

We haven't seen much of Matthew Houck since 2013's Muchacho LP, an album which seemed to thrust him further into the mainstream (or at least the fringes of the mid-sized venue circuit). With C’est La Vie, Houck seems to be exploring deeper and deeper into the pop and country territory that has characterised his last couple of releases, but these are book-ended by two tracks which hark right back to his humble beginnings in "Black Moon / Silver Waves" and "Black Waves / Silver Moon". Even the names of the songs seem comfortingly familiar (see early favourites like "My Dove, My Lamb"). These two tracks may well be considered highlights by some listeners, especially the ones who were drawn in by Houck's early, completely solo, live performances, where he regularly experimented with loops and repetition to provide a full bodied sound. This way of performing was presumably a necessity at the time (I'd imagine it's pretty much impossible to make any money if you're an American solo artist playing above a tiny pub in Newcastle, never-mind a full band), but here it seems like Phosphorescent is doing it for the simple pleasure of it, whilst giving listeners a nod to those earlier performances and recordings.

But the main bulk of this record focuses on the new Phosphorescent, which is less of a solo artist and more of a band (and a substantial one at that). So here we get lots of the alternative country style (slide guitar, heartfelt ballads etc) that Houck has been honing recently, but with extra doses of synth-heavy pop and sometimes cinematic electronica. The freewheelin' "New Birth in New England" is a good example of this approach, being both distinctively Phosphorescent, but also startling new. On other tracks like "C’est La Vie No. 2", the guitar which has defined Phosphorescent's career is hardly present at all, apart from an unrecognisable supporting role. This song is probably the most adventurously disparate track on the album, and the fact that it was released as a single perhaps suggests that it's an area that Houck is keen to explore further. Elsewhere, "Around The Horn" channels the greats of krautrock , however, the results aren't quite as spectacular, it's more of a plodding departure than an exhilarating drive on the autobahn. Lyrically, the album takes in all those years that Houck has been away, moving to Nashville and starting a family, so there's less mysterious nuance and more direct pronouncements of love (see "My Beautiful Boy" as a prime example).

On the whole, C’est La Vie is an uneven but enjoyable record and the high points make it worth sticking around for. It's good to have him back.