Matthew Houck's voice is most at home at its breaking point. His band, Phosphorescent, specializes in a sort of free-wheeling weariness, with songs and characters that work extremely hard at taking it easy. His is the sort of listlessness that must be earned, and Houck strains to reach notes like a Boy Scout on a merit binge.
By the time Houck and his band reached NPR headquarters for a Tiny Desk Concert, that already ragged voice was on its last legs. Phosphorescent was just a day away from wrapping up months of touring — first in Europe with The National, then a set of gigs across the U.S. — and Houck could barely talk, let alone sing solo for 20 minutes on camera. We quickly hooked him up with as much herbal tea as we could find and coaxed that crooked croon back to life.
The result was Phosphorescent's essence in bold relief, with Houck just trying to make it to the next song without giving up. When he sang, "I will keep a-singing 'til I no more can" — during the neo-spiritual "My Dove, My Lamb" — the momentary alignment of song and circumstance was stunning.
- "My Dove, My Lamb"
- "We'll Be Here Soon"
- "The Mermaid Parade"
- "Los Angeles"
Filmed and edited by Michael Katzif; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Michael Katzif/NPR