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. albert walker Says:

    I got cash and ABB or watching the Cubs get drilled again are the real 2 choices.
    I’m not a big Europe tour fan.
    Too hard to get the things I need country to country.
    I would probably fly in for Amsterdam, but bouncing across borders with treats is not really my thing.
    Seeing Phish shows without treats, is also not my thing.

  2. EL Duderino Says:

    The deal with this tour is they alternate who closes the show and WSP is the closer tonight. Make your choice, I’m going tomorrow for that reason.

  3. Marshall Says:

    I need more no-spoiler classic shows. Track titles and times are evil on first listen.

  4. albert walker Says:

    Too bad there is not a 3rd night without Panic.
    That would be really nice.

  5. EL Duderino Says:

    Allmans tours are gonna be a thing of the past from what I’m told. very few shows from now on. Probably will have to travel a little to see in the future which is OK for me I guess.

  6. Marshall Says:

    Here’s another idea Mr. Miner – to add to the list for you – would be to release recompiled show (as single set tracks) the night before you publish a review of a classic show. That way, people could listen to it, a la no spoilers, and then the next day, read the review and download the tracked version.

    Obviously, some people will know the show already, but many others would not.

    More work for you, I guess, but participation could increase.

    Just a phishthough.

  7. larry bird flu Says:

    dont forget about the prauge ghos on 7/6 absolute machine gun trey face melting goodness.
    and also from summer 98 is one of my alltime underrated shows. columbus from 7/31. i know ive mentioned it on here before but the cities from the first set is my all time favorite phish jam. such good band interplay its read iccculus

  8. Mr. Completely Says:

    I thought Euro borders were real open these days, inside the EU – maybe not going to/from Amsterdam, but otherwise…?

  9. snigglebeach Says:

    can someone re-post the latest rumored tour dates??? i can’t find it in old posts, so many pages to look through, i should have saved them somewhere….

  10. Marshall Says:

    Fall Tour 2009
    November 20: US Bank Arena – Cincinnati, Ohio
    November 21: US Bank Arena – Cincinnati, Ohio
    November 24: Wachovia Center – Philadelphia, PA
    November 25: Wachovia Center – Philadelphia, PA
    November 27: Times Union Center – Albany, NY
    November 28: Times Union Center – Albany, NY
    December 2: Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
    December 3: Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
    December 4: Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
    December 5: John Paul Jones Arena – Charlottesville, VA

    New Years Run 2009
    December 28 – American Airlines Arena – Miami, FL
    December 29 – American Airlines Arena – Miami, FL
    December 30 – American Airlines Arena – Miami, FL
    December 31 – American Airlines Arena – Miami, FL

  11. voopa Says:

    November 20: US Bank Arena – Cincinnati, Ohio
    November 21: US Bank Arena – Cincinnati, Ohio
    November 24: Wachovia Center – Philadelphia, PA
    November 25: Wachovia Center – Philadelphia, PA
    November 27: Times Union Center – Albany, NY
    November 28: Times Union Center – Albany, NY
    December 2: Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
    December 3: Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
    December 4: Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
    December 5: John Paul Jones Arena – Charlottesville, VA

  12. voopa Says:

    Dammit!

  13. Mr.Miner Says:

    I thought Euro borders were real open these days, inside the EU – maybe not going to/from Amsterdam, but otherwise…?

    ^^ yes, this is true. Trains are your friend

  14. snigglebeach Says:

    Awesome, thanx guys

  15. voopa Says:

    …and of course, the encore at John Paul Jones Arena will be Good Times Bad Times…

  16. Mr. Completely Says:

    the only downsode – man, do I ever get sick of hash. do they have real weed over there now? around here at times it’s hard to give hash away…hardly any of the growers even bother making it anymore…

    it’s a nice change of pace every once in a while

  17. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    I know this tour list has been out there for a while and others have much more reliable sources than I, but I have a hard time believing that the closest they’d get to New England is Albany and that they’d end the tour in Charlottesville after a big three night run at MSG. This is nothing against C’ville (one of my favorite shows seen is from there) but it seems counterintuitive to go so small for the tour closer. Also, those MSG dates are a Wednesday through Friday. Don’t you think they’d try to have a more weekend-friendly run there? I realize the dates might not be available.

  18. Mr. Completely Says:

    @voopa – gonna represent JPJ they should bust out No Quarter…that’d be a sick mid 2nd set jam

  19. arbitropia Says:

    First of all, the line from Ocelot is “silently slouch through the forest by LIGHT.” How closely did you listen to this album, Miner?

  20. albert walker Says:

    that was my point
    hash sucks
    I tend to puff 7 grms per show
    I guess I could cruise around the euro rail with a half elbo on me
    liquid substances easy to travel with but the herb kills ya

  21. Mr.Miner Says:

    ok…light = end of night…morning…

  22. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    @A Walker
    I may have the FLACs of AZ 97. If Not, I most certainly have the discs, lacking source 411.

    If you are still looking: justino (at) azheads (dot) com

    The band was teasing Alright Now during the show. Impressive Antelope, Twist stood out to me, but it was my first and I was well tuned. That show was the first time since they got big that I raged on the rail for a whole set good times.

  23. Mr.Miner Says:

    good moroccan hash most defitnely does NOT suck

  24. albert walker Says:

    I change that
    I love hash. Puff some bubble every night, to heavy early in the day.
    The problem is when you only have hash.
    Then you want herbs even more.
    Does not satisfy the craving.

    I admit to still having a fondess for the good bubble before bedtime.

  25. Marshall Says:

    What’s your favorite venue and why?

    For me, my favorite venue is Deer Creek – it had changed quite a bit from my last visit in 1997 when I arrived there this year to find shopping centers a few blocks away (maybe they were always there and I didn’t notice?), but I’ve always loved the open feel of this traditional “music center”-style amphitheater. Lots of camping options – usually a two-night stop. A good lawn – not too steep. And the shows never disappoint.

    I’ve never been to a show at Red Rocks, The Gorge, MSG, Limestone ME, or many of the other mainstays.

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