Phosphorescent – C’est La Vie

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“If you’d have seen me last year I’d have said, ‘I can’t even see you there from here'”. Matthew Houck may have become a parent and started writing songs about his young son. But fear not, the essence of the old Phosphorescent still shone as brightly as ever.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks- Sparkle Hard

“This is a verse about a man who dared, To fall head over heels for a woman who shared, Similar interests, similar looks, Similar taste in similar books”. A typically eclectic mix from the (grand)father of indie rock. Includes the best song about a bike lane that you’ll hear all year.

The Rock*A*Teens – Sixth Sense

The Rock*A*Teens- Sixth House

‘Take a deep breath and blow the cobwebs away”. The Rock*A*Teens returned with a new beginning, proving that teens still know how to rock, even once-upon-a-time ones.

Shakey Graves – Can’t Wake Up

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“Tonight!, I’ve got nothing on my mind but you, Somewhere, somehow, You’ll feel it too”. Alejandro Rose-Garcia really doesn’t like Abba. The song ‘Aibohphobia’ confirmed that.

Mount Eerie – Now Only

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In a category of its own. Do not send these songs to your friends or play them at parties! They are some of the most emotional pieces of music of the year though.

 

Phosphorescent – Live at the Music Hall

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Matthew Houck’s Muchacho tour has already generated one tremendous live album. Muchacho De Lujo came out in October 2013 and contained a full concert recorded at St Pancras’ Church in London. Now there’s a new live album recorded over four nights at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in New York. This time, the result is eight tracks from the record of interest, plus three from Here’s To Taking It Easy, and two from both Pride and Aw Come Aw Wry. Maybe because the tracks have been cherry-picked from the different sets, this is an even better collection. There’s a great mood. The playing is tight. And there’s a never a sense of just playing studio songs live. These are versions that poke around in the dusty old corners of the originals, usually coming up with something of interest. So, here, sung solo on keyboards ‘Muchacho’s Tune’ undergoes a remarkable transformation emerging as an almost jaunty, audience-participation sing-along. And the previously almost painfully fragile deep cut, ‘Dead Heart’, now swaggers out of the speakers. And perhaps it’s no coincidence. In his earliest incarnations as Phosphorescent, Matthew Houck seemed like an artist racked with self-doubt. The sound was gloriously angstful and always on the edge of a musical breakdown. Now, he exudes confidence. He knows that his career has been on an upward trajectory and he also knows that Muchacho is a truly great album. He’s right on both counts. And with these two live releases, it’s as if he wants to capture this moment of his musical life so that he’ll never forget the difference between then and now. And he’s right to do that too. After all, who knows what will follow Muchacho? Maybe it’ll end up being the pinnacle of his career. If so, then there’s a record of it for posterity. But if Matthew Houck has shown us one thing, it’s that he’s a really clever guy. He’s a learner. So, Live at the Music Hall might be just a place marker, and a throughly enjoyable one at that, but it might also end up signalling the end of one period in his career and the start of another even better one. Now that’s a really nice thought.

The Line of Best Fit review

All Music review

No Depression review

Here’s the final instalment of my favourite albums of 2013.

Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle – Perils from the Sea

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This album was full of characters. Gustavo, the illegal immigrant. J H Park, the flight attendant. His dad. His sister. There was death. Break ups. Touring. The usual. But through it all, magnificently, “the wonder of life prevailed”.

Bill Callahan – Dream River

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This was Bill Callahan’s happy album. At times he seemed almost contented. It’s all relative, of course. “You looked like world-wide Armageddon while you slept” is his form of a compliment. And sitting on a barstool uttering only the words “Beer … Thank you … Beer … Thank you” is about as close as you’re likely to come to a conversation. Few could get away with it, but Bill Callahan certainly can.

Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze

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Song after song with the same tone. The same mood. The same sound. Chilled out. Laid back. Confident. Kurt Vile pulled off a great trick of turning in a really disciplined and coherent album that still totally relaxed and spontaneous. It was an album that you wanted to go on for hours and hours. And with the arrival of the deluxe edition, it did.

Phosphorescent – Muchacho

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Much was made of Matthew Houck’s new-found love of electronica. But he blended it beautifully with Phosphorescent’s signature-style, slightly off-kilter americana. There were the usual yips. Raggedy guitars. Head-scratching song titles. But most of all there were great melodies and an extra dimension to the sound.

Arctic Monkeys – AM

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There were no frills, no flourishes to this version of the Arctic Monkeys. The sound was slinky, sexy, groovy. The themes were late night. Lonely. But then up popped Arabella with her “interstellar-gator skin boots” and “Barbarella silver swimsuit”. Oh, being a rock superstar is such hell.