Matthew Houck seems to be doing just what his album title suggests on this, Phosphorescent’s fifth album. By no means does that mean that he’s shedding his experimental tendencies and devotion to emotional songwriting, it’s just that Houck seems to be having a great time on this record. Opening song, “It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)” carries on with the country-ramblings of 2009’s Willie Nelson tribute, To Willie, but it’s different in that it’s touched with the joyful horns of All Things Must Pass- era George Harrison. After years of constant touring, Phosphorescent has really come in to its own as a band.
Though this album doesn’t have the same some-time-after midnight, haunting feel of 2007’s Pride, it is still an incredibly cathartic experience. However Houck appears to have rid himself of many of the demons (drugs, exhaustion, etc.) that fueled the creepily beautiful sound of Pride. His voice is still just as warbly, still just as sad, still just as coy, but it’s got more energy inside of it, and more band behind it. Last year’s To Willie, showed Houck’s interest in country music, and this album has him even more committed to fusing the southern roots of the genre into his sound. The album switches from rollicking Rolling Stones-style rockers (“It’s Hard to Be Humble”), sliding country ramblers (“The Mermaid Parade”) and sweeping ballads that call to mind nostalgic hangovers and bleary-eyed lovers of the past (“Tell Me Baby (Have You Had Enough)”).
“I wish those nights of pleasure and those days of pain weren’t so tightly bound/ I wish I was in heaven sittin’ down” sings Houck on penultimate song “Heaven, Sittin’ Down”. This lyric says quite a bit about the progression of Phosphorescent as a band, and Houck as a songwriter. He and his band have been around long enough to have experienced plenty of pleasure and pain, but with that longevity comes a desire to find a place to sit down, or take it easy. Though this album makes taking it easy sound like a whole lot of fun, it also stresses the struggles that come with a life of constant movement and the desire to find a structure to rest upon.