Label: Dead Oceans

Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck has brought the warming tones of Georgia sunlight and baked them into Muchacho, a wry, wrenching album that is easily his best release to date. It revs and rumbles with the motorcycle fever of "Ride On / Right On," it sways into a bluegrass groove on "The Quotidian Beasts," and the gut-wrenching "Song For Zula" vies with any release in 2013 for song of the year.

The haunting choral opener "Sun, Arise!" and the loopy, modulated closer "Sun's Arising" bookend an album that has a little New York grit worked into the pores of traditional Southern blues. Muchachois an amaglam of world-weary poetry that would feel just as at home in a secluded bar as it would under a wiry, Brooklyn spotlight-the current whereabouts of the record's creator.

Houck's raw, country sound—revealed on saloon-ready cuts like "Down to Go"—never feels affected and never gets bogged down in its own swampy Athens roots. Instead, the moniker Phosphorescent has allowed Houck to operate at his most luminescent as a musician, and his most transparent as a lyricist. On his fourth album for Dead Oceans, Houck threatens to upset the hierarchies that relegate folksy releases to dusty, forgotten corners. —Caitlin White