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Sunday, March 09, 2008 

2007: Phosphorescent - Pride

(A friend asked me what my top ten albums of 2007 were. I don't have an answer in list form. I decided to do ten entries, on ten albums I really loved from 2007, which will certainly have a lot of overlap with my Pazz & Jop and Idolator ballots, although I'm not holding myself to either of those. They will be in no particular order. This is the first.)

lord, truly I am awake

We've had a hell of snow storm here today; the store closed early, for the first time all winter, and I sat at home trying to get through the revisions to my thesis. My brother and his girlfriend had gone to the bar; after a few hours, I said fuck it, grabbed the iPod and went to join them. It was ridiculous; from our building to the Albion is normally a two-minute trip, but it took me ten, struggling uphill in snow that would have been waist deep if I'd ever stopped moving long enough to start sinking.

I think the movie soundtrack is grotesquely overprivileged as metaphor, imagery, framing device, but the fact remains that my choice of Pride to listen to on the way out the building and up that hill, fighting for every step, felt fitting in a cinematic way. I can't really explain why; "A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise" and "Be Dark Night" are certainly struggling and ground-clearing songs, the necessary prelude to the rest of the album, but in that crisp black night forging through the snowbanks that had settled on the sidewalks I was struck by the album again.

I mean, those two songs aren't even close to the best material on Matthew Houck's third(?) album as Phosphorescent, one which except for a few voices (and not on the tracks where you might guess they are) and some "clacks" on one song, Houck is wholly responsible for. Of the eight songs, three ("Wolves," "My Dove, My Lamb," and "Cocaine Lights") are towering achievements; the other five are merely great, but part of their greatness is the way they knit together the album and give those three songs the space they need.

I don't even know how to describe this music; the closing title track is six minutes of massed Houcks providing a coda to "Cocaine Lights" and the album as a whole, droning, yipping, howling, sighing. It's gorgeous. "At Death, a Proclamation" is set to a tape recording of a school marching band Houck found/made (can't remember which). "Be Dark Night" is Low's "Whitetail" with the balance between voice and instrumentation flipped. There's a track called "The Waves at Night," which conjures up the exact right image for you. The only Phosphorescent track I'd heard before this, "I Am a Full Grown Man (I Will Lay in the Grass All Day)," is a great song. But it feels like a junk shop full of instruments next to the sustained mood and simplicity of Pride.

I put my headphones back on walking home alone after splitting from my last friend walking the other way; "Wolves" came on. Sometimes this album just hits me the wrong (the right?) way, and I want to drop to my knees and start sobbing. I can't say that about many albums, and the fact that I can't really explain it in Pride's case doesn't make it less powerful. My favourite records of the year are usually just that - favourite records - but every so often one comes along that my world is definably better for its presence. Pride is one of those.

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Funny, I caught this guy at SXSW a couple days ago and went back to Pride for another listen, and I still love it. So here I was thinking I'm the only one who's into this guy, and I come to check up on your writing, and you have a Phosphorescent post up and running. Excellent job, you.

Thanks! I have a ton of writing I want to get done today, but one of the things I want to accomplish is the next installment in this series...

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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