A Glimpse of Joy

PHISH-Joy-cover-art

Joy

When talking to Rolling Stone in March, after Hampton, Trey confidently said that Phish has yet to make their best studio album.  And after giving Joy a number of listens over the past couple days, it is pretty clear that Phish has still not crafted that elusive “best album yet.”  On the heels of their two post-hiatus records, both of which carried a coherent musical vibe, Joy translates as a hodgepodge of styles, with its unity lying in its lyrical themes rather than musical connectedness.  Whereas you could listen to “Round Room” or “Undermind” and get the sense of a conceptual piece of art, Joy leaves you feeling like you have listened to mix tape.  While each songs is produced quite well and hold their individual merit, when the dust settles, this record may be Phish’s least cohesive studio offering since Hoist.

Red Rocks (D.Vann)

Red Rocks (D.Vann)

Opening with an enhanced rendition of “Backwards Down the Number Line,” Phish introduces the theme of the album right away.  A reflection on life’s experiences and lessons learned, friendships and the passage of time, growing older while staying young; these introspective topics paint the portrait of a mature band reflecting on their past while still building an exciting future.  The initial track musically benefits from Steve Lillywhite’s studio production, featuring rich vocal harmonies and a mix that accents Page’s leads as much as Trey’s.  A lyrical tone-setter, ending with the line, “The only rule is It begins,” this is also one of the more impressive studio translations.

“Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan” follows up the opener with a healthy dose of psychedelic blues-rock.  This infectious song, which begged for exploration all summer long, sounds just about the same as we’ve come accustomed to hearing it in the live setting.  With not much added or taken away, the track delivers what we expected- a rocking single.  A song that will likely see more attention when brought indoors, for the time being we can only imagine.

Merriweather (K.Pusey)

Merriweather (K.Pusey)

Phish seamlessly integrated the song “Joy” into their summer shows, using the poignant ballad as welcome respite from darker places.  But the version on the album lacks the heartfelt warmth that has come to define the very song.  Coming off a bit thin with an acoustic guitar and more pop-like, sing-songy lyrical cadence, the raw emotional weight of this song is compromised in the studio setting.  I truly love this song, and I thought the studio version would ooze enchantment.  It doesn’t.

The album continues with arguably its most impressive track in Mike’s “Sugar Shack.”  With its quirky rhythmic changes and darting melodies tightened in the studio, this track pops off the album with as much spunk of any.  A completely unique song, both musically and lyrically, its inclusion does nothing for the overall flow of the album.  The fourth track in a row that bears little musical relation to the other three, this is where the mix-tape vibe really kicks in.  With no obvious meaning, this songs seems to sit on its own, out of relation with the others on the record; but from a musical standpoint it just may be the most intriguing.

Hartford (A.McCullogh)

Hartford (A.McCullogh)

A return to the bluesy feel comes next with “Ocelot.” Seemingly the most light-hearted song on the record, this song could suggest a lyrical metaphor for recovery- a secondary theme of the album.  Written from Tom Marshall’s perspective, Trey “pranc[ed] with the beasts who parade every night” and “silently slouch[ed] through the forest by light,”  but doesn’t want him to be “the only one left on the block,” but instead to reunite with friends and family to “hide in the heard and float with the flock.”  Musically crisp and clean, “Ocelot’s” folk fusion provides one of the most playful moments on Joy.

Joy’s patchwork continues with “Kill Devil Falls,” a song whose live performances have begun to evolve, but whose composition is still far too pedestrian for a legitimate Phish song.  The Chuck Berry-infused rocker tangentially fits with the album’s loose blues-rock framework, but its benign musical template leads nowhere engaging.  Lyrically in sync with the album’s vibe, Trey promises that he’s learned his lesson and “this time is gonna be different,” but yet, allows for human flaws, following up that line with “Until I do it again.”  All in all, this track is bound by simplicity, and sounds like any band could have written it.

6.16.09 The Fox (B.Kisida)

6.16.09 The Fox (B.Kisida)

The most original and enchanting moments of the entire album come during the minute-plus intro to “Light.”  With an ambient build up that was only suggested at Wallingford, CT’s Classic TAB performance last October, Phish introduces this powerful song with the only “new” music on the album.  This soulful build into the song’s initial explosion sets the tone for the openly-expressive piece.  Referencing his own path from addiction to recovery, the most personal lyric on the album may be “I’m left in the now with a wondrous glow- I think I’m still me, but how would you know?”  Reflecting on the deeply introspective journey he undertook to get to today, Trey’s words are sung with a certain vulnerability that has seeped into to his later work.  The lyric, “And finally waiting for nothing at all” also carries a significant meaning- things have finally come to fruition- the time is now.  Creatively bursting with energy and finishing with a layered vocal round, “Light” is my personal favorite track on the album, and one that is infused with the promise of the future.  “The light is burning brighter now…Guide us to our goal…”

Hartford (A McCullogh)

Hartford (A McCullogh)

The album’s theme of reflection comes across playfully in the short ditty, “I’ve Been Around.”  Evoking memories of the last song at a high-school dance, this Page-scribed interlude references the ebb and flow of life; with its high times and its low times, the mysterious journey is never dull.  Sometimes we “throw it down a while” and sometimes “the town throws it down on “us.”  Coyly congruent with Joy’s greater meaning, “Ive Been Around” serves as a Phishy lead-in to the album’s conclusion.

While traveling a path that features four to five minute songs, the band’s decision to insert “Time Turns Elastic” into the mix here is a bit questionable.  Clearly the album’s centerpiece, Trey’s lyrics- both literal and metaphorical- carve out the meaning of the song and its relation to the album’s central themes.  But with so many intricately composed sections, this prog-rock epic doesn’t jive with Joy’s simplicity.  Doing little to unify the record musically, “Time Turns Elastic” may have been better released as a single rather than part of this whole.  (But I bet if you asked Trey, he’d say it is the key to the album.)

Red Rocks (D.Vann)

Red Rocks (D.Vann)

Gazing back over the landscape of their lives, the retrospective piece “Twenty Years Later” closes the album in dramatic fashion.  Following the words, “the morning [of life] has passed, and “its a new day.”  Soaked with the air of redemption, this song’s slower, lush soundscapes give it a more ominous feel- “Inside this silent sea, all are free, all are free, second time around.”  It was a wise choice to rearrange the original order of the album’s songs, placing “Twenty Years Later” as the natural conclusion to counterbalance “Backwards Down the Number Line,” while providing an eerie denouement to “Time Turns Elastic.”

Interestingly, Joy is an album that contains consistent lyrical themes, but little musical cohesion.  While the words carry consistent themes, the music jumps around with little to no connection, creating a studio album that leaves something to be desired.  Questing for the album that is far bigger than the sum of its parts, Phish will live to record another day.  Representing their return to the studio, Joy has both its successes and shortcomings, something we’ve come to expect from Phish’s recorded work.  While pleasant to listen to, nothing on Joy will blow you away; the polar opposite of the band’s live dynamic.  Four guys who were born to play live, Phish will always be master improvisers, but will they ever make that timeless record?  The answer remains to be seen.

Winged music note=====

Jam of the Day:

Cities > Maze” 8.5 Shoreline II

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/ph2009-08-05t16.mp3,http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/ph2009-08-05t17.mp3]

A late second-set highlight at Shoreline, this is the only time either of these songs were played during the second leg of summer.

=====

DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:

8.11.2009 Toyota Park, Chicago, IL < Torrent

8.11.2009 Toyota Park, Chicago, IL < Megaupload

3831060420_86a7994870

Official Chicago Poster

This mid-week stop in the Windy City connected the western and eastern parts of the second leg of tour.  While there are several legitimate musical highlights throughout the second set, the overall presentation of the show seemed awkward and disconnected.  “Number Line,” “Carini,” Jibboo,” and “Hood” stand out in this oddly constructed frame, following up one of the most uneventful first sets of tour.

I: Kill Devil Falls, Sample In A Jar, Ocelot, Paul and Silas, Windy City*, The Curtain With, Train Song, Gumbo, Heavy Things, Time Turns Elastic

II: Backwards Down the Number Line > Carini > Gotta Jibboo, Theme From The Bottom, Wilson, 2001 > Chalk Dust Torture, Harry Hood, The Squirming Coil

E: Loving Cup

* debut

Source: Schoeps CCM4V’S(din)>Lunatec V2>Benchmark AD2K>Sound Devices 722 (24/48) (Taper – Z-Man)

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384 Responses to “A Glimpse of Joy”

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  1. Peace Says:

    Rick Rubin -2010? This man seems to have worked his magic in the studio with so many bands. Why not our beloved Phish?

  2. Mitch Says:

    I still have 2 Trey tix with philharmonic for face. Let me know if you want them. Section cb2 row f.

    tickets at facemelt dot net

  3. phil Says:

    This line sums up my dilemma with the majority of new material: “this track is bound by simplicity, and sounds like any band could have written it” about KDF also applies to Light and Backwards Down, that for some reason, gets soo much hype from the fans. The poppy heartfelt vocals of Trey, it’s just fingernails on chalkboard. Let’s not forget TTE which is a whole other topic of discussion. Until that song gets broken up live, its a virtual set killer.
    While Ocelot rings true to a fun song, it’s an offshoot of Tennessee Jed. Only Stealing Time & 20 Years sound like tracks that brought me into Phish to begin with, clever lyrics and vocals that don’t seem to be a stretch to sing. I just hope they stretch out the experimentation a bit – or they will be just any other band on stage before long…a band that is centered on its guitarist.

  4. Little Buddy Says:

    @ Phil…

    Wow! Interesting perspective. Did you see any shows in ’09? There was quite a bit of experimentation on stage for a band that hadn’t played in 5 years. While Joy may be more straight ahead rock, and I can understand your comments about the lyrical content, I’m not sure what makes you think “they will be just any other band on stage before long…a band that is centered on its guitarist” because this clearly wasn’t the case in August and doesn’t seem to be where things are heading to me.

  5. Mitch Says:

    “A song that will likely see more attention when brought indoors, for the time being we can only imagine.”

    I CANNOT WAIT to see the throw down that ensues when its stretched like silly putty. Mind melting goodness on the way. I also can’t wait for MSG.

  6. fat bastard Says:

    best album is an easy choice for me>Rift. talk about a concept album. they guys lived and breathed rift. “were bobbin on the surface” me too

  7. bhizzle Says:

    I have a hard time believing that all but two songs on this album our a reflection of Trey and his recent troubles and enlightment. I do believe the songs can apply to him and with him and Tom penning the songs that it is more than likely the case. However, all, including Tom and the families and fans, have grown and all have had their share of problems and maybe Tom and Trey, while penning, illustrated that in the works. Granted, Trey’s more public issues also make it easier to say it’s all about Trey, Trey, Trey. I believe it is not and Phish is not a one man band.

    On another note, I have started to fear that I am going to hear another version of The Connection only under a different name. Sing-songy? eek.

  8. fat bastard Says:

    im surprised trey doesnt defend rift as their best.

  9. CJ Says:

    Gotta give it to Miner, his dislike of KDF has been consistent since Jones Beach (I use “dislike” lightly, it is still Phish after all, and I’m sure he enjoys it to some extent.) I dig KDF. Sometimes the rockers should be simple in construction, and I think that’s exactly what KDF does, and it does it well. Trey’s vocals are also great.

    Overall, I like this album a lot. “Worst since Hoist” is pretty surprising to hear. This is absolutely a better album than Undermind and Round Room (though I will say that if they spent the time on Round Room that they spent on this album, instead of just 3 days, RR would be superior. As it is, RR is just a mess of wasted time and botchy playing/singing.) It’s not in the upper-tier of Rift, Ghost, and Billy, but it’s definitely not in the lower-tier of RR, Undermind, and Hoist.

    The lack of a real cohesive feel is really my only complaint right now. It may not all go together perfectly, but each individual track is performed exceptionally well, and the album just sounds great.

    Also, with only 10 songs on the album, I would have liked to see them toss in a couple instrumentals a la Picture of Nectar. It seems like the best Phish album ever would have a couple little ditties. Ah well.

  10. fat bastard Says:

    rift will be blowing kids minds forever

  11. JerZ Says:

    I love the new album. It is going to take a little while for some of the stuff to get stretched out, but it was like that for most of Phish’s albums. Just look at Hoist for example- Think back to 1996 versions of DWD or Wolfmans- they were all about 7 minutes live, and then as the band began to experiment with them those songs became some of the greatest part of the live Phish experience.

    In another year or two we will be saying the same thing about KDF or Number Line or Light (my personal favorite). Give them some time and these songs will be monsters. Go back and listen to the studion kuts of Story of the Ghost and tell me how uninspiring some of those songs were studio- but how nasty did they get after being messed around with for a little while.

  12. SOAM Says:

    When I heard KDF at JB-I thought it was hot-really liked it -never heard it again-Miner-I’m pretty sure you just took a powerdump on that song and showed love for all others.

  13. Lycanthropist Says:

    “While pleasant to listen to, nothing on Joy will blow you away; the polar opposite of the band’s live dynamic.”

    This sums up my thoughts of the album pretty well.

  14. fat bastard Says:

    kdf is cool w me. i think STFTFP is kind of silly not my fav

  15. G. Fet the PinnaMaster Says:

    Wow, Miner. You’re a true critic.

    I actually dig this album a lot, especially when listening to it in one sitting all the way through. I pretty much disagree with you on all of your comments except maybe the cohesion of the album. They certainly weren’t out to make a concept album like Rift. I think it reminds me a lot of their live show. Think about all the decisions they make and all the possibilities. I think that’s why I like it because the styles are different (and if you really want to hear a jumbled album, listen to Nectar).

    The album definitely is more “mainstream” based, but I think that’s mainly because it’s music that the boys like to play. But really, the combinations of tunes are really great. Sugar Shack followed by Ocelot is great! The playfulness of I Been Around followed by TTE is also great. When I heard TTE after all those other songs, I felt like it made a lot more sense to me.

    I also feel this album is going in the family vibe that they’re embracing as mature adults. You’re not hearing silly lines about grape apple pies or word puns so much as honest, heartfelt lyrics backed by simple melodies and chord progressions. So what’s wrong with that? In the words of Mike “I’d actually say that stripping the songs down to their essence is where you can really find Phish”

  16. jon_hansen Says:

    I would have to disagree with Trey and argue that Phish reached perfection with “Lawn Boy.” That was when they were least trying to make a good, cohesive record, and were more concerned with just getting something onto disc and then going and playing it live. For me, that’s what a great Phish album is: a bizarre collection of intricate songs, and if you gave it to someone to listen to for the first time they would be like “what the fuck,” and then when they heard it live they would maybe start to get it. Early on, that was the dynamic of the Phish album, perfection in its own weird way.

  17. captainbisco Says:

    I think the album is pretty good. I like the fact that all the songs sound different, but that is what I look for on a record. When I release my first album, that is exactly what I am shooting for, because I don’t like records on which all of the songs sound the same. If I wanted that, I would listen to gangsta rap. Plus, I have a experienced a similar spiritual/life transition to Trey’s in the last 2-3 years, so I really relate to the album. Very poignant.

  18. Jam on Dude Says:

    I for one enjoy Joy and it’s still new phish that a year ago was non-existent. When TTE was first played accoustic by and trey and then latter releasted on itunes everyone thought it was great!! Now it gets it’s ass kicked on a daily basis. I can only stay pre-hampton positive about the bands new music and their future projects. It was a long 5 years, remember without phish you could wondering who will be playing the first set (WSP or the Allman’s).

    Chicago: What about best of tour Ocelot (IMO) and can anyone give me the flub time on the Curtain With? This show may be somewhat disconnected but is also underated. Good times people.

  19. Bapslap Says:

    I agree Bastard…

    I think Rift is their gem album. It flows, and the songs related to each other, yet are diverse. There are serious compositions, as well as mind blowing improvisations. This is, and probably will always be, my fav.

  20. cottle Says:

    I must be the only one who doesn’t have this leaked copy yet. I’m holding off until next week to get the real mckoy.

    The last time I bought a Phish album on the release date…Billy Breathes back in 1996. I’m kind of pumped about hearing an album from the same producer. Aside from Rift, Billy Breathes is the only Phish studio album that ever got much play in my stereo, and i’s always been my favorite.

    If I can chime in on KDF though: as mentioned above, I haven’t heard the proper version yet. However, I really like this song. At first listen, I didn’t care for it. The intro guitar riff sounded too much like Chalkdust, and if they’re going to play something that sounds like Chalkdust, I’d rather just hear Chalkdust. Once they opened up Asheville with this one, I changed my mind. It works great as a set opener (IMO) and I love the straight-ahead rockabilly kind of tune. Not much potential for a jam vehicle, but Phish needs short and sweet rock and roll tunes too.

  21. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    maybe I’m old, maybe it’s the kids these days (get off my lawn!), but album releases just don’t seem the same as they used to. I remember running to the store to pick up the finally released on CD Junta and going to the record shop at midnight to get Rift when it was first released. Hell, I even remember sitting in the bar of a hostel somewhere in Europe with a set of tiny speakers getting our first listen to The Story of the Ghost in the Fall of 1998.

    The feeling’s not the same (in fact it’s getting pretty tame…) for Joy. Maybe it is because I’ve heard the live versions of these songs more readily or something or maybe that type of thing just doesn’t happen as much anymore. It may be because it was leaked and it’s not like opening the long box (remember those?) for Rift and marveling at what you just knew was going to be awesome.

    I will definitely be psyched to get my official release, throw it in the CD player and listen – it’s rare to even go through a full album anymore – but having it ahead of time and knowing what the cover art is and everything else just saps the magic that used to come from that first listen and the excitement of unfettered expectation.

  22. SOAM Says:

    Its Human Nature to take things for granted….Phish is Touring and nothing but the live experience truly suffices,,it’s pretty fuckin cool that a.-new album/5 yrs.
    b.-songs are pretty good (3 or 4 rip)

  23. fat bastard Says:

    true type iii- its like seeing naked pictures of a girl before you ever screw her….but who wouldnt look?

  24. Danny B Says:

    Joy seems to have it’s ups and downs for everyone.

    I like Light, Number Line, KDF, STFTFP, Sugar Shack, and Ocelot.

    6 out of 10 ain’t bad, but just because I like those songs doesn’t mean I am going to listen to the studio versions that often. Sugar Shack never fully clicked live, so hearing the studio version is great. I personally really like KDF, I think it’s simplicity is the reason it is great. Sometimes you just need a straight forward rocker, and it can fit anywhere in the set, depending on how far they want to stretch it out (a la Bonnaroo).

    They have not created a studio album that truely represents them. At this point I am not sure that it is possible, but as long as they continue to play live, I really don’t care.

    I do love Billy Breathes, Rift, and Ghost. The production on Billy Breathes is better than Joy (IMHO), the songs on Rift are amazing but the production isn’t the best. Ghost is the closest I think they ever came to capturing “Phish” on record. The way the songs weave together, the inclusion of bizarre songs like “Fikus”, “Meat”, and “End of Session”. Those were improvisations that became songs, and I think were very representative of their style of improv at that time. My 2 cents

  25. Danny B Says:

    Also…..I’m not 100% sure the leaked copy is the final copy. The production sounds good, but not as good as I would have expected from Lillywhite, which makes me think this might not be the finished, or fully mastered copy.

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