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“I got tired of sadness/ I got tired of all the madness/ I got tired of bein’ a badass all the time,” Matthew Houck sings on “Revelator,” the opener and title track of his latest Phosphorescent album. Houck was actively looking for something new, an epiphany, when the old ways stopped working. And just as the album Revelator only revealed itself to its author along the way, so too did real life revelations take their time answering the plaintive mission statement with which Houck reintroduces Phosphorescent.

The last time we heard from Phosphorescent, it was after a five year gap between Houck’s 2013 breakthrough Muchacho and 2018’s C’est La Vie. His life had changed drastically: He had left New York City for Nashville, had children, survived a nearly fatal bout of meningitis, and re-built his recording studio from the ground up. Now, another half decade has passed, a period that while quieter, has proven no less complex, with Houck traversing murkier spaces and the blurry mists of time.

“This record is a lot more open-ended and ephemeral,” Houck explains, noting the more plainly autobiographical documentation of C’est La Vie has been upended by something less knowable, more unsettled. The underlying melancholy of Phosphorescent’s music remains, reframed by the weird headspace of long-term fallouts from the last few years. Revelator might promise a fresh outlook, another horizon, but first the album wrestles with an ongoing, ambient sense of dread.

After a bit of pandemic dormancy, Houck first revived Phosphorescent for The Full Moon Project in 2022. Each month, on the full moon, he released a cover of a song from an eclectic selection of artists like Randy Newman, Nick Lowe, Nina Simone and Tom T. Hall, getting back in the groove of making music in his Nashville studio. The Full Moon recordings did the trick, shaking the cobwebs loose: After the downtime of the pandemic, Revelator suddenly happened fast. Houck underwent a few writing retreats, renting himself a room across town then rejoining his family for the weekend. Though it only took six months to write and record, it wasn’t an easy birth: Revelator made Houck confront his usual tendencies toward self-doubt, amplified by his own questions about what sort of album he was making.

In the end, Revelator points the way to a poignant outcome. It’s an album of elegant gravity and “the grand sadness in life” — perennial Phosphorescent subject matter, by Houck’s estimation. In some ways, Revelator extends seamlessly from the story begun by Muchacho and continued by C’est La Vie. It finds Houck further mastering his unique blend of ragged, experiment-y classicism intertwined with ethereal, lachrymose atmospherics. Across Revelator, Houck sings from a woozy, worn headspace, but leads us to a place where dreams and reality mingle. Anxieties about the future — both personal and global — air alongside stray memories. Surprisingly profound (yet still raunchy) messages scrawled on a men’s room wall sit next to moments of reclaimed wonder, with Houck seeing the world anew through his children’s eyes.



Verve Records(2024)
C'est La Vie
Dead Oceans(2018)
Dead Oceans(2013)
To Willie
Dead Oceans(2009)
Dead Oceans(2007)