Wed, January 22
Doors: 7:00 pm9:30 Club
Phosphorescent - (Set time: 9:30 PM)
In the five years since Matthew Houck’s last record as Phosphorescent he fell in love, left New York for Nashville, became a father, built a studio from the ground up by hand, and became a father again. Oh, and somewhere along the way, he nearly died of meningitis. Life, love, new beginnings, death— “it’s laughable, honestly, the amount of ‘major life events’ we could chalk up if we were keeping score,” Houck says. “A lot can happen in five years.”
On C’est La Vie, Houck’s first album of new Phosphorescent material since 2013’s gorgeous career defining and critically acclaimed Muchacho, he takes stock of these changes through the luminous, star-kissed sounds he has spent a career refining. By now, Houck has mastered the contours of this place, as intimate as it is grand, somewhere between dreamed and real, where the great lyrical songwriters meet experimental pioneers and somehow distill into the same person. It is Houck’s own personal musical cosmos, a mixture of the earthy and the wondrous, the troubled and the serene, and by now he commands it with depth and precision. When you ask Houck about the cumulative effect of all this life happening in such a short time, he turns philosophical: ”These significant moments in life can really make you feel your insignificance,” he says. "It's a paradox I guess, that these wildly profound events simultaneously highlight that maybe none of this matters at all..." On this album, Houck reckons with that void — the vanishing point where our individual significance melts into the stars — and sums it up thusly: C'est La Vie.
From the album’s opening moments, Houck sings of this newfound landscape. Of the discovery of new paradigms and the disposal of those no longer useful. After the wordless, haunting Houck-choir opener of “Black Moon / Silver Waves”, he pointedly begins the title track “C’est La Vie No. 2” with the albums first lyrics: “I wrote all night / Like the fire of my words could burn a hole up to heaven / I don’t write all night burnin’ holes up to heaven no more.”
"I was always pursuing this thing of Phosphorescent and becoming the artist that I wanted to become, that sometimes I didn’t even have a second for reflection,” Houck says of the hectic years spent creating, releasing and touring Muchacho. "I was plowing forward—just do, do, do and all else was secondary.” Not that this album exhibits any sense of settling down into complacency. On the contrary, this collection contains some of Houck’s most devastating works to date, but there’s a refreshing measured confidence that radiates throughout C’est La Vie.
Sonically, C’est La Vie is his masterwork: Every sound, including his famously frayed, bemused voice, rings out as inviting and clear as a koi pond. Working in a studio he built from scratch (which certainly came with its own set of challenges) Houck once again set off to produce his own record, calling in musicians from his crack live band as well as friends new and old, and enlisting veteran Vance Powell to help mix the completed project. The writing process was more intuitive, less cerebral and with fewer revisions than anything he'd written before. It was a scary, liberating new approach, like painting with his eyes closed. "I let go of a lot of my writer-poet tricks, and let the lyrics be what they wanted to be,” he says. These lyrics marvel at life’s ability to uproot and re-deposit you into alien, revelatory landscapes: “If you’d have seen me last year, I’d have said, ‘I can’t even see you there from here.’” he sings, wryly, on “There From Here.” This has been one of Phosphorescent’s constant themes—the ever-present possibility for transformation.
But for the first time, Houck seems to be laying down some burdens. “These rocks, they are heavy/I’ve been carrying them around all my days,” he sighs on the album’s closing ballad “These Rocks.” On that same song he also muses, with disarming forthrightness, about drinking: “I stayed drunk for a decade/I’ve been thinking of putting that stuff away.” The lyric makes Houck somewhat uncomfortable, both in its direct simplicity and its capacity to distract listeners into thinking he’d written a stereotypical “battle with the bottle” song. “I'm aware of how that verse resonates, but for me those lines take a backseat to the main driver of that song,” he says. “I originally assumed I'd rewrite and re-sing that lyric,” he says. "But the bones of that song were recorded live and it was the first time I ever played it. It was the first time the band ever heard it and I think it captured something perfect. And it was, y'know, true." So I had to ask myself, again, ‘Well, what is the point of what I’m doing here? I could re-record it but why not just let it be?” To hear Houck, he confronts this moment of mystery every time he records. “Oh yeah, this process is positively filled with moments where you go ‘What exactly the hell is it that I'm doing here?’” Houck laughs. “And the answer always comes back a resounding, ‘I don’t know.’”
Ain't that just how it goes, C’est La Vie.
Caveman - (Set time: 8:15 PM)
You can only go so far on cool points alone. Since Caveman first formed in 2010 they’ve claimed a spot for themselves at the center of the New York music scene, become in-demand DJs, toured the world (sharing stages with The War on Drugs Jeff Tweedy, and Weezer), and gotten love from everyone from Pitchfork to the New York Times. Now the band–Matthew Iwanusa, lead guitarist James Carbonetti, bassist Jeff Berrall, keyboardist Sam Hopkins and multi-instrumentalist Matthew Prescott Clark–is aiming higher.
Caveman is done being an indie rock band playing for indie rock fans alone. They have their sights set on bigger goals, so on their third time around they made their biggest-sounding album yet.
Otero War was created over the course of three years, completely inverting the ramshackle methods used to make 2011’s CoCo Beware and their 2013 self-titled LP. This time frontman Matthew Iwanusa has taken the wheel of the creative process, bringing to it a level of patience, precision, and quality that exceeds anything he’s ever done before. Iwanusa wrote most of these songs in the back of tour vans with a laptop and a portable keyboard, then spent years rewriting, examining every part to make sure it was exactly right, and eventually abandoning an album’s worth of insufficiently killer songs before hitting the studio with the band. There the group refined the songs even further, filling them out with arrangements that bring together their distinctive musical personalities into one united whole, showing off the seemingly effortless collaborative energy that only comes with years of hard work.
It was more work, but worth it. The result is a whole new Caveman: The songs are stronger and more spacious, with carefully constructed melodies and a more judicious use of folksy four-part harmonies and washes of synthesizer pads, leaving more room for Iwanusa’s instantly memorable vocal parts. Iwanusa’s lyrics have also evolved from vaguely sketching a typical twenty-something’s romantic frustrations to examining larger, more broadly existential matters, like figuring out your place in the world.
While Iwanusa’s stepped further out front as a songwriter, arranger, and singer, Otero War is still a group effort made with contributions from the band’s entire unofficial extended family. Albert Di Fiore, who engineered their last album, returns with an expanded role to produce. Iwanusa’s father contributes string arrangements. Longtime friend and New York punk-scene legend Johnny T, who over the years has employed members as bartenders and DJ’s at his bars, helped the band get signed as the first rock act on Cinematic Music Group, home to rappers Joey Bada$$, G Herbo and Cam’ron.
Otero War is clearly the most mature album the band has created, but that doesn’t mean it’s a drag–in fact it could be the most fun music they’ve made so far. Iwanusa’s singular vision of blending Springsteen and Wilco’s polished roots rock with the soaring emotional drama of Tears for Fears and the Human League has never seemed clearer, or stronger. From the buoyant vocal melodies that make the opening track “Never Going Back” take flight, to the hip-shaking rhythms that hold up “Life Or Just Living” (which Matt calls his best song yet), to the contagious, triumphant mood on standout cut “Lean On You,” the album overflows with the joyous energy of a songwriter and a band finding their stride and flexing their newfound power for the first time. You can hear them enjoying the freedom from the confines of the expectations that have surrounded them until now, and looking out at a much bigger world to conquer.
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001