Will Oldham. Just to get it out of the way, Matthew Houck (Phosphorescent main-man) sounds a bit like Will Oldham. Looks a little like him too, with that beard. Originally from that historic bastion of indie music, Athens, GA, comes Phosphorescent, a folk and country influenced musical project. With two albums already under the moniker, the third, Pride, appears on a new label, Dead Oceans, (sister label to Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian). I was suitably intrigued by even just the name of his second album Aw Come Aw Wry released in 2005, but there didn’t seem to be very good distribution in England, so I haven’t had the chance to hear Mr Houck previously, despite wanting to.
The percussion on this album is beautiful. It often uses non-traditional sounding techniques, shaken beads, random surfaces being hit with drumsticks and light thuds are everywhere. The way this was recorded and placed in the mix works exceptionally well, being just around the periphery of the main thrust of the songs. “The Waves At Night” best exemplifies this style of percussion, although it crops up all over the album. The type of percussion here isn’t too dissimilar to Heron King Blues by Califone, although Pride comes across as rather earthier and less clinical in it’s approach
The vocals are multi-tracked a lot on this album, they can become the fore-grounded focus of songs, (“A Picture Of Our Torn Up Praise”, “At Death”, “A Proclamation”), and sometimes they can drift through the background, (“My Dove, My Lamb”, “Pride”). Of particular note is “Be Dark Night”, with it’s layered vocals and varying timbres and pitches being used to great effect. Houck also knows how to compare and contrast that style with the simplicity of just one vocal track, as on “Wolves”.
This album has a slow meditative rhythm and a particular fervor. It brings to mind a campfire at night, with people sitting in a circle around the fire, stories are told and strong images are imprinted upon the listeners. The lyrics have wolves roaming, “They tumble and fight/And they’re beautiful/On the hilltops at night/They are beautiful” (“Wolves”), regrets surfacing, “In the darkness/After the cocaine lights/I will miss you without warning”(“Cocaine Lights”), and memories, “I remember evenin’s/When my Dad would sing/Hidin’ in the hallway/Hidin’ with something” (“My Dove, My Lamb”), twisting themselves around the campfire.
Pride is very much an album, a cohesive unit of sounds that don’t have as much power when pulled apart, but when together create something special. As such, the effect of some songs are not immediate until the listener has spent time with the whole thing. When you notice things like the innocent and child-like delivery in “Wolves” contrasting with “At Death”, “A Proclamation’s” funereal stomp and the uneasiness these contrasts generate, or “Cocaine Lights’” transition to the eponymous “Pride”, and the warped bliss that creates, you start to appreciate the album a lot more and it’s quality shows through.
The reverence of the vocals are similar to Akron/Family’s first self-titled album, while the sometimes reverb laden instruments call out Great Lake Swimmers. But really, Phosphorescent has created its own world on this album, like a novel and film combined. Loose but not amorphous, Pride is a very successful and enjoyable listen, you’ll finish the last song and be surprised by the lack of wood smoke in your clothes.