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Phosphorescent - Here's to Taking It Easy Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 8.75
Musicianship 8.5
Lyrics 9.25
Production 9.25
Creativity 7.5
Lasting Value 9
Reviewer Tilt 9.75
Final Verdict: 89%
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Phosphorescent - Here's to Taking It Easy

Reviewed by: Jeremy Aaron (06/07/10)
Phosphorescent - Here's to Taking It Easy
Record Label: Dead Oceans
Release Date: May 11, 2010

Cruising around AP.net's review database and scoping the comments, you're bound to come across replies concerning "bias" in the review. I'd be lying if I said it didn't irk me a little each time I see responses like that, as if people could possibly look at something with complete objectivity without injecting any personal preference, as if we'd want them to even if they could. The true beauty of music is that we all have our own "stories so far," life experiences behind us, records we've come to cherish, all of which lead each of us to take something different away from a given piece of music. Assessing an album in the same way a professor would grade an exam would kind of be like bringing flowers into a laboratory and doing a chemical analysis to determine the sweetest smelling one-- and expecting that kind of treatment just misses the point altogether.

Now, by the same token, I'd be just as wrong to say that Phosphorescent's Here's to Taking It Easy is an unquestionably great album. My thoughts about it are also just an opinion, one that's influenced by my own personal experience. And as much as most reviewers would like to claim that they were born with uber-hip tastes, somewhere out there, there's a cassette tape with my three-year-old voice claiming my favorite singer as Barbara Mandrell (give a toddler a break, huh?). But most of the elders in my family were country musicians, so those old records along with my dad's classic rock stuff and the modern rock of the '90s have somehow coalesced in my mind to create an unconditional love for stuff ranging from Band of Horses' Everything All the Time to These New Puritans' Beat Pyramid.

I point all this out just to qualify that when I say Here' to Taking It Easy generates instant feelings of nostalgia, we're not talking teenage summers and first loves. I'm talking about days when nothing except grade school spelling and arithmetic mattered, long before I even liked a girl. Listening exudes a comfort that I would imagine is comparable to being in the womb. Aside from reminiscences of my more innocent days, there's also the comfort that stems from the realization that classic sounds won't ever die. As much as I do love Battles' Mirrored, it's nice to know that the future will still be full of people making records that sound like their original pressing came on a crackling vinyl disc decades ago. Anyone who complains that they just don't make music like they used to anymore clearly isn't listening.

Prior to hearing Here's to Taking It Easy, I would have been more than a little incredulous to read what I just wrote about Matthew Houck, a.k.a. Phosphorescent. Pride, his last album of original material, saw him still firmly entrenched in the sort of shambling, lo-fi folk of his early records. Not that it was bad (Bon Iver fans should definitely check it out if they haven't already), it just didn't have nearly the resonance of this new material. In between, he telegraphed the progression by releasing an album of Willie Nelson covers, all of which were serviceable as much as covers can be. It's just not the type of album that warrants much revisiting.

With this new album, Houck seems to have learned something from recording To Willie, as he has stepped up his game considerably. I would imagine only diehard fans of minimalism will be disappointed by the change. The bluesy horns that kickstart the album's opener "It's Hard to Be Humble (When You're From Alabama)" announce pretty clearly that this is a new Phosphorescent. Houck's fragile vocal still propels the songs, and anyone looking for the smooth harmonies of previous albums can still occasionally find it, like on "Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)".

Here's to Taking It Easy really gets rolling with "We'll Be Here Soon" and "The Mermaid Parade", songs that seem to put Nelson's influence on full display. Besides making awkward phrasings and lines with too many syllables sound just right, Houck also reveals remarkable skill in sounding simultaneously aching and nonchalant, and on "We'll Be Here Soon", he seems to explain why-- after laying down a bittersweet lament, he sings, "We'll fix ourselves another beer," perhaps indicating a Willie-like inclination toward self-medication. And then, there's the album's real stunner "The Mermaid Parade". It seems strange to hear a guy known for sparse, woodsy records to upgrade to a full band with huge production to ultimately create just about the loneliest song imaginable, and yet there it is.

This isn't to say the album amounts to a set of original songs made to sound like more Willie Nelson covers. Houck takes full advantage of the more robust sound here, with "I Don't Care If There's Cursing" and "Tell Me Baby (Have You Had Enough)" blurring the lines between '60s and '70s Nashville Sound and the country-pop of the early Eagles. Probably the biggest oddball on the surprisingly diverse disc is the spartan, tribal chant "Hej, Me I'm Light". After that, it's a return to vintage sounds to close it out with the Western swing of "Heaven, Sittin' Down" and the nearly nine-minute "Los Angeles", a crunchy, more rock-oriented tune with a gothic Americana feel.

As with every year, 2010 has had its share of disappointing releases, but also like every other year, it too is characterized more so by its pleasant surprises. Here's to Taking It Easy sits pretty much at the top of that list for me. But even if you don't have my memories, and this record doesn't transport you to a time when kids still played Space Invaders, and even if its careful rendering of the past doesn't make you well up with infinite hope for the future, consider this: if you dig songs with twang, Here's to Taking It Easy is as tuneful and affecting a set of them as you're likely to come across.

RIYLDamien Jurado's Caught in the Trees
Dr. Dog's We All Belong
Everest's Ghost Notes


Track Listing1. It's Hard to Be Humble (When You're From Alabama) (4:28)
2. Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly) (4:48)
3. We'll Be Here Soon (3:17)
4. The Mermaid Parade (4:22)
5. I Don't Care If There's Cursing (4:55)
6. Tell Me Baby (Have You Had Enough) (4:37)
7. Hej, Me I'm Light (4:38)
8. Heaven, Sittin' Down (4:26)
9. Los Angeles (8:48)


Preview/Buy the album at Amazon MP3.
 
Displaying posts 1 - 7 of 7.
04:29 AM on 06/08/10
#2
Gregory Robson
Under Rug Swept
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So so so so so so happy you reviewed this. I was worried it wasn't going to see the light of day. In my Top 10 (so far) of 2010. Cheers dude.

Btw, how nice is it to have just nine cozy tracks? I think that's why I like this album so much. You can get through it in one sitting and feel wholly satisfied. Sans filler. Love Matthew Houck to no end.
05:05 AM on 06/08/10
#3
Wake Up
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Great record, of course.
06:04 AM on 06/08/10
#4
The Raine
on this sinking night
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Quote:
RIYL
Damien Jurado's Caught in the Trees

Will check this out now.
08:06 AM on 06/08/10
#5
Dunn.Nope
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great album. speaking of Everest, did anyone review their new one? I thought it was great.
10:03 AM on 06/08/10
#6
Jeremy Aaron
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So so so so so so happy you reviewed this. I was worried it wasn't going to see the light of day. In my Top 10 (so far) of 2010. Cheers dude.

Btw, how nice is it to have just nine cozy tracks? I think that's why I like this album so much. You can get through it in one sitting and feel wholly satisfied. Sans filler. Love Matthew Houck to no end.
Indeed. For giggles last night, I looked back on the list I made at the end of last year, and of the top 30 albums, I reviewed four of them. I definitely can't let that happen this year. A slew of stuff has sort of flown by without much attention, but hopefully I'll get down to writing them up soon.
10:08 AM on 06/08/10
#7
Jeremy Aaron
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great album. speaking of Everest, did anyone review their new one? I thought it was great.
I don't believe there were any staff plans to review that one. I listened to it once when it first came out and I definitely liked it. If I'm able to put in the writing time I want to over the next month or two, a review for it might pop out, but it's not my first priority.
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