[sic] Magazine

Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy

With 2½ years passing between the last release of original material from Phosphorescent (Pride, released October 2007) and this latest offering, it might not be surprising that it feels very much like catching up with old friends. Except that in my case, I’m joining them on a journey already begun, as this is the first time I’ve heard material from Matthew Houck and company (which, for this album, is Scott Stapleton , piano; Jeff Bailey , bass; Chris Marine , drums; Jesse Anderson Ainslie , guitar; Ricky Ray Jackson , pedal steel).

It quickly becomes obvious that no energy has been wasted on apprehension for how one has been remembered, nor any other frivolities and formalities. “It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)” begins things in a purposeful and lively mood. Like a wink issued in passing, the invitation to come along for a while is implied, as is the understanding that the spirit of this journey is to continue on, regardless.

That spirit carries through and ultimately results in an album containing a variety of emotive observations and highlights. Though, at times, they’re slightly obscured by the kind of delicacy that can be synonymous with light-hearted alt-folk/country melodies, particularly when accompanied by seemingly restrained vocals. The music itself is immediately familiar in a warm and open way – there is no eagerness to please, but it does just that easily and often jovially. Greater depth and distinctive character soon becomes evident, from both the stories themselves and a combination of finely tuned vocal inflection, near-Gospel choral harmonies and blues-tinged guitar riffs that do their own talking.

“I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing” comes along with a bright, cavalier attitude that is downright infectious, and sure to have you singing along in whole-hearted agreement. You’ll completely believe you mean every word, too, even if just for the duration of the song. “Hej, Me I’m Light”, on the other hand, invokes a moment of introspective reflection. Beginning with just a few lilting notes and Matthew Houck almost chanting the track’s title (sans the “Me”), he uses the oft-touted cracked fragility of his voice to particularly memorable effect. With just a few words, some subtle but effective storytelling in the form of guitar melody, and a gradual layering of percussion and vocal harmonies, it builds from a dawning realisation to become a celebration. Despite those initial claims of difficulty, it also remains humble. Quite simply, it’s beautifully done.

There are moments of nostalgia and hints of regret, without being held back or weighed down by them, such as with “The Mermaid Parade” – a genuinely lovely ballad which manages to be reflective while retaining the progressive energy of the album. That energy is perhaps best observed on “Heaven, Sittin’ Down”. Coming towards the end of the album, it wishes for respite from a variety of regrets; but, both musically and in the way the vocals are delivered, feels resolved to the understanding that sitting around wishing doesn’t do any good, and in turn that there are better things to be getting on with. This is all brought to a close with the final track “Los Angeles”, which lingers slightly in a little melancholy as it makes its farewells.

Ultimately, though, Here’s To Taking It Easy comes with the same heart-felt optimism and sincere intension that accompanies the toast – which inherently acknowledges that it’s not always easy to take it easy, but a good deal of the time it’s simply the best way to keep moving forward. And, like tilting your glass back, it puts a little warmth in your bones to help you on your way.

Here’s To Taking It Easy is released May 10th on Dead Oceans .