August 4, 2013

Phosphorescent, "Muchacho"

This is one of those albums where it took me a little while to figure out where the magic was coming from. There were some things that immediately grabbed me, like the echo on the bass and the reverb on the drums in "Song for Zula," which give the song a heartbeat-like sway. The same effect shows up (on the Rhodes piano) in "Muchacho's Tune" and elevates it. Or the shaker-and-weird percussion groove that drives "Ride On/Right On." But over time, the thing that opened my ears is that the record's weary, ramshackle vibe is entirely a construct, an illusion. It's meticulously crafted bit of melancholy, seemingly built brick by brick over a long period of time by musicians given the freedom to experiment and layer on sounds (I've since learned it was mostly recorded over the course of a year, in a simple practice space instead of a "real" studio). Usually, the records exhibiting this flavor of half-awake mystique are done in a more off-the-cuff manner. Sort of like, put four mics and four musicians in a room and record everything in a couple of takes. Instead, this is an album that's obviously been painstakingly put together. Multi-layered vocals, strings and horns, pianos, rich textures aplenty. All that bunting can spell death for this type of country-ish ballads and funky low-key rock songs. But all over Muchacho, it just works perfectly. There's a sad humanity leaking from between the grooves that would be so, so easy for many lesser songwriters and producers to miss by a mile if given the luxury of unlimited studio time. But the dude here shows admirable restraint and exquisite taste. He deserves a medal.