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”

  1. Mr. Completely Says:

    @beeb – yes

  2. albert walker Says:

    The last bit of tour I did before calling it quits was west coast summer 97.
    I have all the shows, but the Arizona show to start the run.
    I have no memory of the show except the first really jammed Gumbo I had ever heard.
    Does anyone know if there are good recordings of this show.
    I’d def like to revisit the Gumbo and see what the rest of the show is all about.
    I have good copies of the Ventura, Shoreline, Gorge and would like to complete the run

  3. cottle Says:

    Another great resource for audio equipment:

    http://www.taperssection.com check out the “Playback Forum” for all the info you could ever want on CD players, speakers, headphone amps, DAC’s, etc.

    I’ve heard alot of folks talk about http://www.gearslutz.com too, but I don’t know anything about that site first hand.

    good luck! I’ve got a pair of Bose 909’s that my Dad bought used back when he was in high school, and he gave them to me about ten years ago. They need new tweed, but sonically, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. If I ever buy another pair of speakers, it’ll be to augment these, not to replace them.

  4. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    @Lycan,

    I cannot recommend the rest of that 6.17/95 show enough. the second set is a five alarm fire. the curtain>stash to close the 1st set is fantastic, but definitely give the second set a listen if you have the time.

    all I have to do is list this and it should speak for itself:
    Mound>Tweezer>Johnny B. Goode*>Tweezer>McGrupp
    *1st ever

  5. Mr.Miner Says:

    @ albert- right here my friend:

    http://phishthoughts.com/2009/02/09/a-desert-antelope/

  6. albert walker Says:

    Wow, thanks.

    It’s funny you referred to it as a show forgotten also.
    I am very interested to hear that Gumbo (only my memory can serve me here) I have not heard it yet on tape.

    I’m glad it got a write up.

  7. albert walker Says:

    I remember the show being odd
    looks even crazier years later on paper
    what a strange setlist for 1st and 2nd
    no I’m excited about the Antelope decided to read your little piece

  8. albert walker Says:

    Oblivious Fool
    Antelope
    Velvet Sea

    And I thought some of the 2009 2nd sets started out strangely?

  9. Mr. Completely Says:

    “And I thought some of the 2009 2nd sets started out strangely?”

    @albert – again with the brain transplant!

    that’s what I thought reading that setlist, to the word!

    that whole setlist is oddly constructed.

  10. John Says:

    Hey can anybody tell what some of the better 94′ jams are? I know it’s one of their best years, but I feel almost overwhelmed diving into it with no clue of where to begin. All I have from that year are 06/11/94 (So far my favorite Phish tape), A Live One, and the Divided Sky from 06/18/94. Pretty bare huh? So come on feed me some epic 94′ Phish!!! (Shows with SBD copies would be nice)

    Also, if anyone knows where I can find a SBD copy of the first Phish show at MSG online (12/30/94 I think?) I would really appreciate the link. It was on etree once, but I can’t find it anymore…

  11. Mr. Completely Says:

    rest of 6/18 doesn’t suck

  12. Robear Says:

    John, Miner had a link a couple weeks ago for 11/16/94 in Ann Arbor great simple jam

    phishows.com has a decent aud of 12/30/94 MSG powerful Tweezer

    they also have the laguna seca daze shows 6/25 and 26/94 I think. Nice little duo with Les Claypool the first night.

    Of course the 12/29/94 providence is available as a live release and has a slew of great jams.

  13. cottle Says:

    6/22/94 I think they released this one via livephish
    11/19?/94 Bloomington, IN (check the date)

    I’ll come up with some more and re-post when I get home, but those two are fire.

    I’ve got an AUD copy of that 12/30/94 somewhere if you want it…no SBD though. 🙁

    cottle_jason AT yahoo DOT com

  14. albert walker Says:

    94 is the first year SBD’s got pretty tight. Not too many leaks.
    I think the whold run 12/28-12/31 would be a great place to start
    The OJ show from Wisconsin 6/17/94 is another classic.

  15. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    whatdaya say, OJ?

    love the Mission Impossible jam in the 2001 of the OJ show…

  16. Robear Says:

    AW, I couldn’t agree more with the whole New Year’s ’94 being released. OJ show, would be a classic. I have a nice Maxell II of that gem.

    I would buy a release of the ’95 new year’s run as well, to add to the 31st.

  17. Marshall Says:

    It’s a Live Phish release – The Bomb Factory, Dallas TX 1994/05/07.

    If it’s even possible – do yourself a favor and get it but don’t look at the set list or track times at all.

  18. albert walker Says:

    6/25/94 Nautica Stage was another classic midwest summer 94

    opened with N2O and never let up
    love this one also

  19. Marshall Says:

    I want them to release the holgram AUD/VIDs so I can be transported to shows I never attended.

  20. EL Duderino Says:

    @ AW

    WSP closes the show tonight and the Allmans tomorrow night

  21. EL Duderino Says:

    You’ll get 30-45 min more of the Allmans by attending tomorrow night.

  22. albert walker Says:

    I guess I should avoid tonight then is what you are saying

  23. Marshall Says:

    WSP > ABB – I’d rather be on Phishthoughts and spend that money on Europe ’10.

  24. Frankenstein Says:

    Did I see something yesterday on this board about a Europe tour in April?

  25. Mr. Completely Says:

    @marshall – great idea, the Bomb Factory “no spoilers” – that would be fun

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