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.Miner Says:

    “The problem is when you only have hash.
    Then you want herbs even more.”

    ^ I feel you. But post-show / party hash joints are unbeatable IMO

  2. EL Duderino Says:

    Deer Creek is the best of the “Shed” style venues. Gorge hands down!! But then i think RR. Either way they’re both fantastic!

  3. Mr.Miner Says:

    re: 94- check out Miner’s Picks: 11/94 – some goods in there

  4. albert walker Says:

    I’ve posted some stupid shit in my day
    but Hash sucks is definitely the worst
    Pearl Jam sucks, understandable, although heavily debated here
    Hash sucks, thats just wrong

    Praise Jah!!!

  5. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^ lol @ albert. all is forgiven 😉

  6. Mr.Miner Says:

    I find that when I’m in Amsterdam, I gravitate towards the concentrated THC products like moroccan blonde or chocloate, nederhash, bubblehash, pressed kief, etc…..bc honestly, the weed over there ain’t any better than the weed over here…

  7. albert walker Says:

    no one does it like the emerald triangle
    America’s finest product
    homegrown in the USA
    those socialists over in Europe can’t grow headies

  8. Mr.Miner Says:

    re: Ocelot- does anyone else think that the beginning of the solo is flubbed, or is that how its meant to sound??

  9. Leo Weaver Says:

    @marshall…for outdoor venue, mine is the Gorge…and there’s no competition (other than possibly RR but I’ve never been there so it’s N/A). Indoor venue would have to be Hampton because it’s GA, there’s not a bad seat in the house, and it’s only me and 13k of my closest phriends. For a large indoor venue, I’d have to go with MSG.

    And yeah, AW, the hash just makes the jones for bud stronger. Part of my summer ’98 was drying out from a few assorted chemicals…I was in Italy and bud was impossible to find without going to Switzerland (and the carabinieri had the train stations on lockdown then so I wouldn’t do the cross-border thing). We found some hash which was pretty meh, but it eased the need for a non-red-wine buzz…only problem was 30 minutes later all I could think about was puffing on a tasty j…so I’d end up with another bottle of red wine in my hand.

  10. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    gotta say, I’m hearing “light” as the end to the line “and silently slouch through the forest…” in the leaked Joy Ocelot. it almost sounds like “and silently slouch through the forest spotlight” but I’m really not sure.

    as for the solo, it totally sounds flubbed to me. but what do I know…

  11. Marshall Says:

    glad to see someone else on here appreciates the rouge vin.

  12. Leo Weaver Says:

    @marshall…but asheville CC was pretty sweet too…I just don’t think of it as a regular stop.

    @Miner…when I was over there, I spent the first day exploring the variety of nugs which impressed me…but yeah, it’s no better than what I get here, so I spent the next 4 days with lotsa the blondes and bubbles…ya know, those are a little tougher to come by on this side of the pond.

  13. Marshall Says:

    @ LW – I was definitely talking about regular stops.

  14. Marshall Says:

    And yet, ACC was sweet. Best GA floor I’ve ever been on.

  15. Mr. Completely Says:

    re: hash yea that’s about right, I like it as an add-on, I just burn out on it. I couldn’t smoke nothing but. I still have a handful of hash joints rolled for the Gorge I haven’t gone back to…

    It’s not possible to grow weed any better than it’s grown here. As good as, maybe. But not better.

    re: venues –

    out: Warfield, then Fox (ATL)
    in: Greek (Berkeley)

    if those are too small to count, then

    out: Gorge, then RR
    in: Hampton, then MSG i guess

  16. Mr. Completely Says:

    whoops I got “out” and “in” mixed up in the first group, lol, not exactly an advanced concept

  17. Marshall Says:

    Does anyone on here know how to take mp3 files and compile them into a single set (for no spoiler purposes)? I use iTunes but, am [best Bill Murray Stripes impression] “willing to learn” other software if it [best John Belushi Animal House impression] “don’t cost nothin’.”

  18. Mr.Miner Says:

    out: Gorge, then RR
    in: Hampton, then MSG i guess

    ^^ yup – I might put MSG first for indoors though

  19. sumodie Says:

    “re: Ocelot- does anyone else think that the beginning of the solo is flubbed, or is that how its meant to sound??”

    I’m not hearing it -can someone post the start time of the flub?

    Nothing like a little over analysis before I get my legal dl next week 🙂

  20. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^ as Trey enters the solo, his first note isn’t clean, but sound like he missed it and then adjusted up to it (something he does a lot live)…..

  21. Mr.Miner Says:

    silently slouch through the forest by light…..

  22. Mr. Completely Says:

    Miner, my reasoning is simply personal – my first Dead show was at Hampton in 85 and I saw every show there through 91, it was my home base, I saw more shows there than any other single venue. I only saw a total of about a half dozen MSG shows. I love the venue, everything about visiting NYC was always a blast, so I would never argue with putting it first. Hampton just has all those special associations for me.

    @marshall – Audacity

    http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/windows

    free and awesome. It’s powerful enough that it does have a little learning curve, but it does everything you need – you can paste tracks together, add fades, crop, even adjust levels to match (to a point), etc.

  23. Mr. Completely Says:

    …same with RR and the Gorge. It’s a toss-up. My pick is based on having more history at the Gorge. Both are amazing and there is no wrong choice.

  24. Marshall Says:

    thanks Mr. C.

  25. Jay Says:

    if I was on a desert island with only one venue, I would wish it was Hampton 🙂

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