The London Evening Standard said of Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck, “He may prove to be the most significant American in his field since Kurt Cobain." Comparisons to the brooding grunge messiah always seem a touch overwrought, but here it’s surprisingly apt. Reminiscent of Cobain’s haunted crooning during the band’s Unplugged in New York performance, Houck’s cracked, faltering vocals are forever threatening to shatter beneath the weight of some frustrating bliss, sorrow or inscrutable commingling of the two. Phosphorescent’s follow-up to 2003’s frighteningly brilliant A Hundred Times Or More, contains six more plaintive prayer-songs from the Old (Oldham?) Spooky South via one part-time college town, part-time mini music Mecca in northeast Georgia.
“Toes Out To Sea,” a melancholic, piano-accented reverie born of lethargic afterglow, introduces listeners to Houck’s stark poeticism: “Your pursed lips blow / Perfect O / As you break your body / Like waves onto me.” Glittering sadness runs like webbing veins of gold through this record—a resigned, suicidal stillness punctuated with the flickering glow of a dim romantic’s tentative, guarded optimism. In the droning organ-soaked “All Of It, All,” Houck reminds us, “The thing about lifetimes / Is sometimes you have to be cruel / It’s sad that it’s sad / But don’t let that dampen you / No, to live you must die / Yes, and more than one time / You must kiss it goodbye.”
Flight’s not all dirge, death, dismemberment and drunken 4 a.m. lamentations, however. The album’s centerpiece, a rousing sing-along “When We Fall” bounces fitfully along to another kind of drunkenness: the dizzying jubilant variety. Barroom piano, impromptu cheers and stein-clinking background singing, tambourine, foot-stomping, hand claps and horns, all adorning a beautiful lyric: “The sky tonight at sundown / Looked like God himself / Feeding diamonds to his horses made of gold.” If we are to believe Will Oldham is truly a “prince” (as his sometime-moniker claims), there must be a king on some throne somewhere. That throne just may reside in Athens, Ga. And it’s not inhabited by Patterson Hood, but his haunted highness Matthew Houck.