Phosphorescent’s “Muchacho” is the kind of album that will take two listens to decide you hate it and then another three to realize how much you actually love it. It puts manufactured textures, built on electronic samples and ponderous canned beats, at direct odds with the more grounded aspects of Phosphorescent’s charms, namely the cracked, dusty croon of frontman Matthew Houck and his gift for celestial transcendence.
Ostensibly this is a country-blues album filtered through a warped funnel that touches on R&B, trip-hop, and folk. It’s a dizzying experiment forever teetering between the synthetic and the organic, and that tension is ultimately what makes it so visceral. If Gram Parsons were alive and making music on his laptop and still tripping on peyote, “Muchacho” would be his latest masterpiece.
These 10 songs sprawl across Houck’s entire artistic trajectory as Phosphorescent, from his humble indie-folk beginnings to his recent leanings as a Willie Nelson disciple. “A Charm /A Blade,” a rollicking country-rocker, brings back the exuberant horns that propelled his 2005 album, “Aw Come Aw Wry.”
Houck has always been hard on himself in song, quick to chronicle the toll that life on the road and too many substances have had on his relationships. On “Muchacho’s Tune,” he lays it bare: “Hey, I’ve been [expletive] up / And I’ve been a fool / But like the shepherd to the lamb / Like the wave unto the sand / I’ll fix myself up / To come and be with you.”
To lift a line from “Down to Go,” he spins his heartache into gold. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “A Charm /A Blade”
Phosphorescent plays Brighton Music Hall on April 17.