First of all, I want to know who Zula is, because the song that bears her name is heartwrenchingly beautiful. Google tells me Zula is either an assortment of restaurants/bars, a psych-pop band from NYC, a village in that well-traveled country of Eritrea, or a manufacturer of educational products for children. Anything is possible*, but I’ll bet the Zula that Phosphorescent is referring to in the standout track from their new album is of a more feminine persuasion, and it sounds like she didn’t treat frontman Matthew Houck too well. Regardless, “Song for Zula”, after the meditative opening track, sets the tone for the rest of Muchacho– life has wounded Houck, but he’s not going down without a fight.
Houck’s voice has the emotionless inflection of Kurt Vile for the majority of his songs, but, unlike Vile, Houck shows signs of life when he wants to. He gives out a rebel yelp several times, most notably in “Ride On / Right On“, and few songs will rock harder than “A Charm / A Blade”. His lyrics tend toward malaise and dissatisfaction at first, but the end result is nearly always defiance, a will to live. It’s a potent combination of feelings, and it seeps through the entire album.
Everyone wants a piece of folk and Americana right now, but few are making the genre their own. This is the first Phosphorescent album I’ve heard, so I can’t speak for their previous output, but if this album is any indication, Phosphorescent is at the head of the twangy pack. They bear enough marks of the genre to fit right in, but they have a distinctive sound, and Houck is a better and more literate songwriter than most. After all, how many Americana albums are you going to find this year with the words “anhedonia” and “quotidian” in their song titles? Bet you won’t find any with “Zula” either.
*Heck, the ancient Spurs are going to the NBA Finals. Something tells me Lebron won’t just be giving this one to Timmy, Tony, and Manu though.