Record Review - 4 June 17 2004

Matthew Houck, the quivery-voiced architect behind Athens' ephemeral-folk collective Phosphorescent, clearly feels entitled to his listeners' patience. Like Will Oldham and Jeff Mangum, to whom he's too often compared, Houck is less interested in assertive melodies and identifiable hooks than he is in quietly unfolding blankets of warm sound, whether it's melancholy wisps of piano or plodding, deliberate organ dirges.

All of which is well and good, when such airy layers have something to climb toward, or reveal themselves to be wrapped around musical or lyrical nuggets of initially overlooked substance. In that regard, The Weight of Flight — a six-song follow-up to last fall's occasionally affecting A Hundred Times or More — fulfills the promise in its title: Its light-as-air atmospherics are the sole point, but they're too slight to carry listener interest far enough to achieve liftoff.

There's certainly little in either Houck's lyrics or his delivery to help the songs take flight. Standard-issue laments of lovelorn loneliness, like "Mrs. Juliette Low," are whispered in a shaky voice given to cracking — an effect presumably meant to convey emotional frailty, but which instead suggests the onset of puberty. (This doesn't do the lyrics any favors.) Ironically, only "When We Fall," a slender, mid-tempo sing-along with a recognizable and ingratiating melody, momentarily lets Weight slip the surly bonds of earth.

Phosphorescent plays the Earl Sat., June 19, 9:30 p.m. $8.