Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 10 Country, Folk & Blues Albums

8. Phosphorescent
(Dead Oceans)

It's safe to say Phosphorescent (a.k.a. Matthew Houck) fulfills the prophecy outlined on Muchacho track "Down to Go": "You say, 'Oh, you'll spin this heartache into gold' / And I suppose, I ain't got much choice now do I though?"

The sixth studio recording from Phosphorescent unfurls sorrow as though over a pink desert skyline, adding a sparkle to the dust, a glimmer of fiery hope to the sunset. Yeah, it's gold; think Songs: Ohia on a cosmic trip through the badlands of Sierra Madre, all plaintive strings, luminous guitar and soulful yearning down to the last hazy, harmonized yelp (here represented by "Sun's Arising (A Koan, An Exit)"). Lyrically, Muchacho was influenced by experiences in and around the time spent touring his previous album, Here's to Taking It Easy (2010), coloured by falling-outs, drug and alcohol use, and a relationship lost.

Muchacho seems like pretty standard classic country crooning fare, until you realize Houck is shaping heartache in new and surprising ways. Rippling electronic beats provide a rich and devastating momentum for "Song for Zula," while full-blooded alt-country jam "The Quotidian Beasts" swirls in a state of sweet delirium. Houck's voice crackles and caws when it wants to, mellowing out to make quiet promises on "Muchacho's Song." It's rambunctious, sure, but this wild thing is beautiful. (Sarah Bauer)