Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Living in absentia is agreeable for Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck, a man who's comfortably dislodged from the standard bustle of the formulaic backdrop. It is what he sharpens his knives upon and salivates over, sitting at the dining room table, with a napkin tucked over the collar of his shirt and draping like a kite down his chest and stomach. He's satisfied when it's served, unadorned and unapologetically cast in a tan glow, these morsels of the uncomplicated escape.
There's a difficult, migraine-inducing feeling that overtakes you when you think about Houck having to deal with traffic jams or crowds, having to operate without issue in a land where people are unscrupulously connected to hundreds if not thousands of other people with the touch of seven buttons. It's a claustrophobic closeness that can't be found on any of Houck's albums, these bottles of aged wine and midnight air that are the occasions of sad kings and free spirits who can't make do with what they're surrounded with, with what they have to deal with on a consistent basis.
These are the meek cries to those places beyond the suburbs where the ditch weed grows tall among the roadside litter and the fence posts and fencing, keeping nothing in, just keeping everything out in a light way. These are songs that perk up a good, guttural howl from the balls of the toes and project it high and into the night skies so that it reaches all of the outskirts and those with antennas far off into the distance. They are songs that have no neighbors, that don't lock their doors at night, that find campfires to be good fires and never stray from biting their tongues when too much is about to be said.
Houck fits generations into the twig-like crackings of his voice, as if a tumbleweed had blown through his open throat and choked it up without warning, moving on shortly after. Visibility inside the lyrics of lazy times and pounding heart convocations, where the people aren't called, but the animals and ghosts of eras hundreds of years long gone show perfect attendance. Whether he realizes it or not, Houck strips us of what we're wearing, cutting us down to our pasty, dry skins with his words.
He makes you feel like it's not just him toiling around in his birthday suit, but you as well, unashamed that you've said "fuck it" to the rat race, if only for the duration of a recording. "The women are all gorgeous down here/They're long and they're brown like deer," he sings on "South (Of America)," a song that tries to remind us that our needs shouldn't need to be seen as too great to meet. A roof, ladies who are bronzed like deer and antelope, some stars, some watermelon and beer might just be three things past indulgence and luxury. All we might need are the watermelon and those girls. The rest is optional.
There are lives that are lived and there are lives that are survived, one could argue and nowhere in what Houck discusses on last year's Pride does he separate the two from each other. There are wolves in his house, hunting him down and there is a calm and cool distance set forth between the sickening torrents of nastiness and the settled score, when no one's ahead.
He is a fountain of wisdom that doesn't necessarily need interpretation or pretext to slip into like a warm, winter coat. He lives here, but he's having trouble calling this here a home. He's spinning his wheels, doing what he can to shake these terrors, these tremors of bad taste and clinginess, these degrees of warmth that turn a man cold after so long. He needs elbow room and nothing standing between him, a long sprinting run and the horizon, which upon reaching at the end of all the wind in his lungs, he'll just fall off of it into the most touching free fall ever recorded.
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