There must be a moment in the sleep process and indeed the death process that is akin to the waking up, a moment where the two states cross over and if this moment were to freeze it would be near impossible to tell whether the body was regaining consciousness or receding. Phosphorescent's 2nd album is cleverly placed in this moment and though it is one of the loneliest and barren records I've heard since Bonny 'Prince' Billie's I See A Darkness it is clearly frozen in a state of waking up. This is not a conclusion I've arrived at easily. Any hint at the direction this record is taking is subtle to say the least, but that is where it's success lies.
Phosphorescent is the work of Matthew Houck and though this sound is comprised of many voices and musical accompaniments it is Houck who leads this choir. Like the afore mentioned Prince Billie, Houck's voice quivers and shakes like a fragile flame. His music is stark and minimal. The production is hollow and there is very little in the way of bass to provide you with any warmth. Periphery noise is often prominent with voices and shuffling creating a sense of emptiness behind Houck's intimate whispering. These are prayers set to music, some people would call that a hymn but these are more intimate and personal than that. 2005's Aw Come Aw Wry was a different affair from Pride, full of marching bands and evangelical fervor but here Houck takes the same sentiment but expresses it in a far more subtle and mystical way. The result is a more spiritual-sounding record.
The start of the album is very different from the end. A Picture Of Our Torn Up Praise and Be Dark Night conjure up the most desolate of landscapes. As cold, dark nights loom we huddle round these saddest of Christmas carols for a glimpse of warmth. Wolves is a divine piece of work. With the help of a gently plucked ukulele Houck starts off, "Mama there's wolves in the house, mama they wont let me out." In this song we see the albums aim to ward off this approaching death. "They make for my heart as their home."
By the time you get down to My Dove, My Lamb the approach has shifted. This song and the next - Cocaine Lights - are twice the length of their predecessors and serve as a total immersion in this prayer. They stubbornly take their time in a Dylanesque repetition of verse and chorus and they are simply dazzling. Were it not for the closer Pride which is over six minutes of wailing these two songs would end the album in uncompromising beauty.
This record creates this bleak image of cold and dark and yet at its heart there is so much warmth. It shows you the world outside but subtly gathers around you and holds you close. Houck's final line on Cocaine Lights ends this truly special album perfectly and sees this vulnerable, flickering flame show encouraging signs of burning bright. "I will recover my sense of grace, and rediscover my rightful place, yes and cover my face with the morning."
Buy this album now.