It’s been five years since Matthew Houck released his last Phosphorescent album and by all reports he’s gone through a bunch of stuff in that time – falling in love, starting a family, leaving New York for Nashville, building a studio from the ground up and nearly dying from meningitis. As a result, C’est La Vie has a beatific glow about it as he casts his eye over those years, taking in the highs and lows.
As he always has, Houck places his songs in wondrous musical worlds with cosmic vibes interweaving with organic and earthy instrumentation. There’s pedal steel that recalls Daniel Lanois at various points, drums that hark back to sound of Levon Helm but then he overlays those elements with ethereal choirs, interstellar effects and kosmiche noise. The juxtaposition of all those things and the masterly and seamless blending of them is what Houck does so exceptionally well. Is it folk music, is it psych rock, is it country noir?
Opener ‘Black Moon/Silver Waves’ sounds like an outtake from Nick Cave’s last album while ‘New Birth In New England’ is a slice of joyous tropicalia. ‘Christmas Down Under’ is dark and stately Americana while on ‘These Rocks’ Houck sings “These rocks, they are heavy/I’ve been carrying them around all my days,” a sign that C’est La Vie marks the end of one chapter of great change in his life, the acknowledgement of it and in some cases celebration, before it’s time to keep moving on.