Phosphorescent

Phosphorescent (10:00 PM)

Strand of Oaks (9:00 PM)

Fri, April 5, 2013

8:00 pm

$15.00

Sold Out

This event is all ages

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Phosphorescent - (Set time: 10:00 PM)
Phosphorescent
Nearly three years on from his breakthrough album Here’s To Taking It Easy, Phosphorescent returns to the fray with his most stunning record yet: Muchacho . During the last album’s ‘cycle’, one could almost hear jaws hitting the floor witnessing a live band of such infinite verve. Not only did the album draw high praise in the form of Mojo’s ‘Album of the Month’ (#8 End of Year), Sunday Times & The Independent ‘Albums of the Week’, hit Rough Trade’s Top 5 Best of the Year, but the band also supported The National over the course of three sold out nights at Brixton Academy, a show that The Independent gave 5/5 and called "a sublime, joyous gig".

Matthew Houck, for he is Phosphorescent, likes to work. The Alabama native, now resident in Brooklyn has delivered five albums as Phosphorescent since his 2003 debut. Houck has a highly distinctive artistic voice, but also a refreshing, rolled-sleeves approach to his expression, and if he had his way, he’d have twice as many albums under his belt by now. The singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer is envious of the time when prolificacy was expected. “In the ’60s and ’70s, they were making artists crank out records every six months. With guys like Waylon Jennings, John Prine and even Dylan, I don’t think those records would have gotten made in today’s climate, because now you’re allowed – or even required – to make a grand statement. I have this ideal – and I know it’s not possible, because of the way the industry works – of making a record every year.”

Houck may not have managed that, but still has an impressive output – one born of commitment and his soul’s need to have its say. It was 2007’s Pride – a delicate and spare, haunted and haunting work of ragged country, bittersweet southern gospel and forlorn folk-ish drone – that first caused ears to swivel appreciatively in Phosphorescent’s direction. He followed it with To Willie, a tribute to country legend Willie Nelson, then 2010’s Here’s To Taking It Easy, an unapologetically enthusiastic plunge into country rock and rolling Americana. Now, his sixth album flashes yet another colour in the subtly shifting Phosphorescent spectrum.

Muchacho reprises the understated melancholia and sensuous minimalism of Pride, while kicking up a little of Here’s To Taking It Easy’s dust, but it also strikes out into more adventurous waters via rhythm and electronic textures. It took shape if not quite by accident, then partly as a result of events beyond Houck’s control. After spending the best part of 18 months touring his last record, Houck was, in his words “pretty fried.” In late 2011, he returned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard studio where he’d recorded his previous two albums, planning “on taking this whole thing down a few notches. I wanted to make music,” he explains, “but I was weary, so the spectre of putting anything out and getting back on the road was a bit of a block.” In December, he bought a load of old analogue gear and “just starting playing around with it, making these noises. They weren’t songs, they were just strange sound pieces. I’ve always had that element in my work, and one or two weird, ambient pieces seem to squeeze themselves onto every record, but suddenly I was doing a lot of those.” Houck also turned into a bit of DIY electrician, since a lot of the vintage gear needed fixing. “I ended up spending a lot of time learning about stuff like impedance matching and ohms,” he laughs. “I really got quite nerdy about how it all worked.”

Houck also got very enthusiastic about the sonics that would eventually feed into the strikingly raw, Can-like, ‘Ride On/Right On’, where his simple, whooping vocal and 808 drum beats are the focus, the production is echo-heavy and the guitar little more than abstract background choogling. “I’ve always been happy with the records I’ve made,” the singer says, “but sonically, I think there’s been something lacking. This time, I was getting really excited about the experimental sounds I was making. I was thinking I might make an ambient record that had vocals, but no lyrics. I was actually considering releasing it under another name, or even my own name.” So, a much-needed break, plus some enjoyable messing around with noise, without much thought as to how to use it. But, exactly as 2012 turned, Houck’s life began to unravel. A domestic crisis meant he had to find another apartment/studio at short notice, in the dead of winter. In accommodation-squeezed New York. His life was falling apart, but almost perversely, “songs just started happening, and there were five or six of them.” Houck admits he was “in the middle of a bit of a freak-out,” so in the small hours one Sunday, he booked a ticket to Mexico, on a plane that was leaving three hours later. “It sounds really cheesy, but I went down there with a guitar and got a little hut on the beach in Tulum, on the Yucatan Peninsula.” He spent a week there, working to finish the songs that would become Muchacho, then went back to NYC, found a new place, fitted it out with his studio and began tracking the record in May 2012.

‘Muchacho’s Tune’ – with its opening braid of twanging guitars, piano and electric keys, its warm, rich reverb and poignant mariachi brass – is the song on which the album turns. “I’ve been fucked-up and I’ve been a fool,” confesses Houck, who may or may not be the feckless man-boy of the title. This was the first song to come to him fully formed, and it establishes the album’s lyrical theme – “that the possibility of redemption through love and romance is not just hopeful, it’s also viable. It definitely exists. But what ends up happening is more redemption through some vague means that I don’t really understand.”

The album is perfectly framed by ‘Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)’ and ‘Sun’s Arising (A Koan, An Exit)’, the opening and closing tracks respectively. Sweet, healing and hugely potent in their hymnal simplicity, they not only recognise the diurnal rhythm that governs our existence, but also remind us that however dark things might get, the light will always reappear.

‘Muchacho’s Tune’, the somber and majestically slow ‘A New Anhedonia’ and the seductively loose ‘The Quotidian Beasts’ are the album’s fullest songs in terms of instrumentation and arrangements. Houck called on around 20 musicians at different times to add various parts, including members of the superior five-piece live band that has recently made such an eloquent and physically powerful contribution to Phosphorescent’s soulful expression. But the album’s composition and production are again all his own. “It’s really always me by myself, so much so that with Pride, no one else played anything. I have a group of really great dudes, and I’ll happily trumpet how fantastic these guys are, but a band going into the studio, as one? That never happens.”

‘A New Anhedonia’ – a gorgeous, charcoal grey song on which understated piano, soft brush work and ripples of pedal-steel guitar are matched with heavy reverb and gently sighing backing vocals – was the second song to come fully formed to Houck. And the crisis it describes was resolved by the very writing. Anhedonia is a loss of the ability to take pleasure in something the sufferer usually finds enjoyable, and Houck experienced it in those winter months following that grueling tour. It’s quite a shock to hear him murmur, “all the music is boring to me” and then describe music as “foreign”, but that’s how he felt for a short, dark while. “In addition to what was going on in my personal life, music had always been the most reliable thing for me, but I had a few really lost months of not caring about it, of not deriving any pleasure from music. I felt detached and adrift from everything. Oddly enough, I don’t think I knew the word ‘anhedonia’; it just kind of popped up right around the time of writing that song. That dread was still quite prevalent, even after the batch of songs came together.”

If losing one’s way results in something as lustrous as the first album taster ‘Song for Zula’, more artists should find life’s maze and walk around for an indefinite period. It is such a glorious gem that unfolds with Houck’s cracked vocal stalking the perimeters unabashed. And this amidst an album positively riddled with highlights like ‘Terror in the Canyons’ and superlative ‘A Charm/A Blade’; all barreling piano and stabby horns galore.

It’s indicative of Houck’s distinctive talent, dedication to his work and trust in his muse, then, that a temporary hurdle didn’t become a serious block. “I got clear of it by just getting to work on the recording,” he says, simply. Sleeves rolled. Resolve fixed. Muchacho delivered.
Strand of Oaks - (Set time: 9:00 PM)
Strand of Oaks
Hard Love, Tim Showalter’s latest release as Strand of Oaks, is a record that explores the balancing act between overindulgence and accountability. Recounting Showalter’s decadent tour experiences, his struggling marriage, and the near death of his younger brother, Hard Love emanates an unabashed, raw, and manic energy that embodies both the songs and the songwriter behind them. “For me, there are always two forces at work: the side that’s constantly on the hunt for the perfect song, and the side that’s naked in the desert screaming at the moon. It’s about finding a place where neither side is compromised, only elevated.”

During some much-needed downtime following the release of his previous album, HEAL, Showalter began writing Hard Love and found himself in a now familiar pattern of tour exhaustion, chemically-induced flashbacks, and ongoing domestic turmoil. Drawing from his love of Creation Records, Trojan dub compilations, and Jane’s Addiction, and informed by a particularly wild time at Australia’s Boogie Festival, he sought to create a record that would merge all of these influences while evoking something new and visceral. Showalter’s first attempt at recording the album led to an unsatisfying result—a fully recorded version of Hard Love that didn’t fully achieve the ambitious sounds he heard in his head. He realized that his vision for the album demanded collaboration, and enlisted producer Nicolas Vernhes, who helped push him into making the most fearless album of his career.

Throughout the recording process, both Showalter and Vernhes maintained an environment that paired musical experimentation with a mindset that defied Showalter’s previous studio endeavors: the atmosphere had to be loose, a celebration of the creative process and a reinforcement of the record’s core themes. “In a time of calculation and overthinking, I wanted to bring back the raw, impulsive nature that is the DNA of so many records I love.” And in keeping with that loose, hedonistic vibe that encompasses so much of Hard Love, Showalter looked to his best friend, Jason Anderson, whose musical prowess and expert shredding augmented the unrelenting energy that would become the record’s backbone.

This uninhibited and collaborative studio experience led to the most dynamic album in Strand of Oaks discography, moving beyond Showalter’s original concept for a singularly feel-good record to something more complex and real. For as much as Showalter wants this record to seem like a party, it’s more than that. It feels like living. “You went away…you went searching…came back tired of looking” is how Showalter begins the title track, a sentiment that epitomizes Showalter’s own mentality in beginning Hard Love. And as the record progresses, so do the themes of dissatisfaction and frustration with love, and family, and success, and aging, both in personal experience and songwriting.

“Radio Kids,” Showalter’s infectious, synth-driven ode to youth and a time when music represented something pure and uncomplicated, perfectly encapsulates his desire for escapism from both his adult responsibilities and a world he no longer recognizes. But if there’s a sun in the Hard Love solar system, it’s “On the Hill,” a psychedelic, celebratory homage to three days in the excesses of that mind-altering Boogie Festival. “On the Hill” captures the true zeitgeist of how Showalter wants this record to feel. “It’s like I had to fly across the world to find out who I was…it was all about getting loose, and connecting with people on a primordial level…letting go of all the bad things, losing your inhibitions, and figuring out what it means to be alive.” The accumulating intensity that Showalter crafts throughout this flagship track seems to effortlessly achieve an almost hallucinogenic ambiance, with images of lighters being lifted, concert-goers embracing, and the magnitude of the moment eliciting nothing less than mass euphoria.

And then, there’s “Cry.”

“Eventually there’s this crushing reality of what it means to hurt someone, what you did to hurt someone…you’re not the victim anymore, it’s not romantic, it’s not a narrative…you just realize you’re the cause of problems.” This noticeable shift in the tone of Hard Love—a heartbreaking, piano-laden ballad with the chorus “Hey…you’re making me cry”—is a sobering reality check in Showalter’s universe. And as Showalter struggles to reconcile his youthful desires with the realities of adulthood, we’re eventually led into the final death rattle of his pervasive partying, “Rest of It.” With its loud, raucous arrangement of sing-along vocals and searing guitars solos, “Rest of It” emerges as Hard Love’s flawless manifestation of an exceedingly fun, belligerently drunk night where you try to forego life’s responsibilities and have one more good time.

Much of Hard Love was either written or conceptualized during Showalter’s post-tour break, as he reveled in the memory of what he considered to be life-changing experiences. But it was during this period that he received devastating news: his younger brother, Jon, had suffered massive cardiac failure. “He was 27 years old at the time…it happened out of nowhere. I flew out [to Indiana] and stayed in the hospital for almost two weeks. They said he had a 10% chance of surviving and they had to induce a coma to prevent brain damage. Sometimes he would start to wake up and look me in the eyes…it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. But he got better. That’s all that matters.” In so many ways, it only seems fitting that Showalter’s psychedelic journey, his awakening to drug-fueled excess, the loss of inhibitions, the inevitable reality check, and his subsequent last hurrah be capped with his darkest, most life-affirming experience yet. The title of the record’s final track, “Taking Acid and Talking With my Brother,” represents Showalter’s last-ditch attempt at reconciling his personal life and his impulsions, crafting a clear connection between what were previously considered trippy experiences and the now extraordinary surrealism of witnessing his younger brother’s medical emergency.

And as Hard Love comes to its conclusion, it becomes that much more obvious that the singer/songwriter has grown to something larger and more momentous, crafting a passionate, brazen, and fully realized rock and roll record that captures the escapism of sex and drugs while offering an equally sincere perspective on the responsibilities, complications, and traumas that punctuate our lives and force us to evolve. “Some records are built like monuments, set in stone…I want this record to be burned in effigy, I want it to be burned in celebration of the limited time we have on this Earth.”
Venue Information:
Troubadour
9081 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA, 90069
http://www.troubadour.com/

All lineups and times subject to change