With the release of “C’est La Vie” (Dead Oceans) Friday, Phosphorescent has officially entered the realm of dad rock. Literally speaking, this is singer and songwriter Matthew Houck’s first album as a parent; between the release of 2013’s remarkable “Muchacho” and “C’est La Vie,” Houck got married to musician Jo Schornikow (who has joined the studio and touring band), moved from Brooklyn to Nashville, became a father of two, and built a studio. But also, there’s a sense of stability about “C’est La Vie” that wasn’t there before. The ground under his life seems to have stopped shaking, and now it’s seems easier for Houck to look around and take it all into his music.
Houck’s voice hasn’t exactly smoothed out, but it’s aged and settled into itself. On the piano-driven “C’est la Vie No. 2,” he sings, “I wrote all night/Like the fire of my words could burn a hole up to heaven/I don’t write all night burning holes up to heaven no more.” These “holes” are exemplified in his “Muchacho” signature track, “Song for Zula,” a beautiful six-minute gut punch about the destructive nature of love. Possibly one of the best tracks of the decade so far, it would be first on a playlist of songs for watching a pillar of fire ascend.
There is no successor to “Zula” on “C’est La Vie,” but that doesn’t make it a lesser album. The album is bookended with two expansive instrumentals; Fleet-Foxy harmonies and gently cycling guitar propel “Black Moon : Silver Waves,” and closer “Black Waves : Silver Moon” lifts high on rolling percussion and Houck’s keening falsetto.
The rest of the songs occupy the flexible, fertile territory of not quite country, folk, or rock. “New Birth in New England” is more tropical than its title would suggest, with a singalong-worthy chorus. “My Beautiful Boy” is a sun-kissed love song to a child, maybe the least complicated love song in Phosphorescent’s catalog. The rambling “Around the Horn” is streaked with synthesizer contrails, and a few Springsteen-ish whoops leap out of Houck’s throat. There’s real optimism in this music; the world already hurts enough, it seems to say. My dad would probably like this album, and so might yours. I like this album too. If Phosphorescent is dad rock now, let’s all be dads together.