Friday, January 10, 2014

SOTW - January 10, 2014 - "Song for Zula"

"Some say love, is a burning thing,
That it makes, a fiery ring..."

You think you know where I'm going, right?

With the exception of the Almighty, has anything inspired more music than the pain of Love lost? Whole genres (e.g., Blues, old Country) are built around longing and pleading for an object of desire, just out of reach. Lyrically, the love-lost composer expresses one of three general sentiments: 1. I lost her and want her back; 2. I lost her, and it hurts so bad, and I don't know what to do about it; 3. I lost her, and it hurts so bad, but I'm determined to get past the pain and move forward. In Matthew Houck's (performing under nom de guerre "Phosphorescent") ethereal 2013 album Muchacho we find all three, fused into an inspiring mix of pain and resolution.

In the middle of what he described as a "domestic crisis," which can only mean a bad case of confusion and heartbreak, Houck retreated with his guitar to a desolate hut on the Yucatan Peninsula to put the finishing touches on the material that eventually became Muchacho. The soundscape that resulted from this isolated creative process is a stirring mix of Jim James meets Blood on the Tracks era Dylan vocals, laid over a sparse electronic backdrop. It is superb, must-listen, contemplative mood music. Houck is an Alabamian who cut his teeth in early '00's Athens, so his music resonates in the Southern mind; this is outlaw Country for the Radiohead generation.  

The gripping centerpiece of Muchacho is your Song of the Week for January 10, 2014. "Song for Zula" must have been written for the lost object of Houck's affection. It is a profound statement of resolution in the face of Love lost. The opening lines channel Johnny Cash and tell the listener immediately that this story is heated. This is no one night stand. There are wounds here, and they are fresh. We are then taken on a meandering path of pain ("then I saw love disfigure me"), defeat ("you see the cage it called. I said, come on in"), anger ("and I could kill you with my bar hands if I was free") and this poetically moving statement of resolution (see 3 above):  
You see the moon is bright, in that treetop night.I see the shadows that we cast in the cold clean light.I might fear I go, and my heart is white,And we race right out on the desert plains all night. So honey I am now, some broken thing, I do not lay in the dark waiting for day here.Now my heart is gold, my feet are light,And I am racing out on the desert plains all night. 
Houck thus stares down the dragon, and prevails. It's always a better ending when our hero finds his way forward in the face of loss.

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