Pride is 41 minutes of loneliness. It’s like listening to Skinny Love on codeine. Slow, quiet and unsettling in every way. Interludes of noodling guitars underscore Phosphorescent’s multi-layered vocal harmonies to create a sound unlike anything that I’ve ever heard, and when the melodies come in, they’re slow and reserved. Phosphorescent is the working moniker for Matthew Houck, a singer-songwriter from Athens, Georgia. His fourth album, Pride, evokes feelings of solidarity through this contrast of slow, driving melodies and subtle interludes of drones and hisses. The beauty of the album is that it cannot be pigeonholed into the genres that it swings between, folk and ambient, because it captures both so perfectly. The record is hopeful in its tone, engaging with its pop melodies and unnerving with its ambience, to create a unique sound that makes even the toughest traveler nostalgic of their home.
Pride is an album for The Soul-searching Traveler. The person who embarks on journeys to far away lands and returns immersed in new knowledge. The traveler will find solace in the strength of Houck’s vocals and lyrics and a rhythm to travel to in the thumbing bass drum. “Wolves,” arguably the best track on the album, is the perfect example. The song opens with soft, nylon strings strumming a simple melody, until Houck enters with a youthful voice asking for protection from the wolves from his mother. “Mama there’s wolves in the house / Mama, they wont let me out. / Mama, they’re mating at night / Mama, they wont make nice.” As the lone traveler bounces from city to city, from hostel to homestay, the cry for domestic protection is the traveller can relate to. Then, the home-sickness sets in.
In contrast to the more guitar-driven folk songs that remind us of home, Pride also has large segments of extremely slow vocal harmonies. “Be Dark Night,” a 4-minute hymn to the beauty of the nighttime, eerily fills the stereo with layers of deep vocal melodies and pounding crescendos on the floor tom. The traveler drifts to sleep as he listens to this song on a long train ride through the countryside, letting Houck’s calls for darkness slip into his dreams. The next track, “Picture of Our Torn Up Praise,” does just the opposite. Matthew Houck’s falsetto vocals and the band’s extremely simple, driving acoustic guitar and bass drum create a sound that resonates brightness in every direction. This track is a return to the poppy-ness of “Wolves,” but rather than longing for protection and safety, the lyrics comforts himself and pleads for loneliness: “Leave me not alone I wont be chased I wont be thrown…Tell me where you’ve been and I will tell you where I’ve been / it will be all ok.” The traveler can again comfort in the lyrics that scream independence.
“Cocaine Lights” and “A Death, A Proclamation” are among the highlights of the album. “Cocaine Lights” exhibits a perfect balance between the comforting resonance of “A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise” and the darkness of “Be Bark Night” as it introduces a bright grand piano that perfectly complements the sadness of the vocal melodies. Houck sings about the feelings of being strung out on cocaine: the bright lights and the absolute darkness that proceed. Houck might be retelling an instance of overdosing, as he explains: “But lord they’re rolling me away / Ain’t they rolling me away / Don’t they roll oh oh oh / In the morning in the kitchen / I can hear my own blood clicking / So I stand there and I listen / Till the glowing begins.” “A Death, A Proclamation,” the final noteworthy track, is the most unique part of the album. The song builds tension in every bar. The traveller is running through the city now, completely lost. The heavy drum roll carries the song until the chorus of male vocals overtakes the drums and cries, “Oh love / though one day I tarried to far / and I never came home / oh love / always I carried your heart / married deep in my own.” Now, halfway across the world and completely alone, the traveller feels lonelier than ever.
Pride evokes a unique kind of loneliness that only The Soul-searching Traveler can find. In every track, Houck takes a new perspective on the meaning of home. He talks about nature (wolves, bears, meat), love and everything else that induce nostalgia for home. I strongly recommend Pride. It will sound both familiar and exciting. You might find that we both have a similar experience while listening to the album: we remember a time when we were far from home, wherever that may be, and the conflicting feelings of longing for home and excitement for adventure collide at full force.