The Weight of Flight
When Matthew Houck first visited England in 2000, on the heels of his debut album (recorded as Fillup Shack), the London Evening Standard, in an oft-repeated hyperbole, suggested that Houck “may prove to be the most significant American in his field since Kurt Cobain.” Others merely settled for the somewhat overused “the new Dylan.” This, at a time when London was practically overflowing with young, American singer/songwriters wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Now, the British music media has never been afraid to cry out about the next big thing, but still, the Standard‘s outcry seems a bit premature in retrospect. Not least considering the fact that Houck himself has long since outdone his early efforts as Fillup Shack.
Last year’s debut album (as Phosphorescent), was a much more well-rounded and overall interesting affair than his Fillup Shack debut, and this year’s EP, The Weight of Flight, again ups the ante, proving that Houck grows more eloquent with each passing release. The influences of Will Oldham and Jeff Mangum are still strong, but now Houck sounds even more similar to another much-heralded young talent, namely Bright Eyes, albeit a more country-fied version.
But it’s not fair to reduce Houck to a mere product of his influences: he’s too versatile to pass off as some accidental byproduct, and he carries this versatility with the ability to mold his musical eclecticism into one single whole.
What marks The Weight of Flight off from his previous releases is that it’s more rock-influenced, sounding more like a real band playing together, as on the wonderful, elegiac “Not Right, You Know” and the gospel-tinged “When We Fall.” It’s a sound that suits Houck’s compositions perfectly, both more exciting and energetic than his former one-man-and-his-guitar persona. His take on the Willie Nelson staple “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” demonstrates his genuine understanding and respect of country music, while the quiet “Mrs. Juliette Low” is reminiscent of a naturalized Sparklehorse.
It remains to be seen whether Houck can carry this vision even further on his upcoming full-length album, but as for now, this is a remarkable achievement from a young artist who never stops to amaze with his versatility, musical craft and the sheer beauty of the music he makes.