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:

    yeah I wasn’t at the hampton phish reunion

    hampton warlocks was a high energy show to say the least…but something about NYC…I wouldn’t wanna live there, but I love to visit!

  2. sumodie Says:

    @MrC: and thank you for the t-shirt design (as well as including organic cotton as an option). I’ll have mine for Indio!

  3. Marshall Says:

    vibrating floor? Is that like the vibrating Fox Theater Balcony (requiring a bunch of double-a and 9 volt dancing hippies)>

  4. Marshall Says:

    I would also love to hear from someone who was at both 12/31/2002 and 3/6/2009 as to the energy level.

  5. Mr. Completely Says:

    ahahahaha Marshall you really WERE at the ATL Fox!

    If you were there, and in the balcony, you know.

    That shit was freaking me out!

    there are a number of ballrooms out here on the west coast with “floating” dance floors, hardwood on giant springs…they really get going! WOW Hall in Eugene, Crystal Ballroom in PDX…

  6. Mr. Completely Says:

    @sumodie, glad you like it – yes, the organic option was a must-have, I thought. I left less expensive options for those on a budget.

  7. Marshall Says:

    If you never get into a band like Phish, and instead stick to the mainstream acts (U2, Coldplay, etc.), you’d never be able to have this conversation about venues (unless you just happened to have moved around a lot).

    I’ve seen parts of the U.S. I wouldn’t have traveled to otherwise, all because of Phish.

  8. Mr. Completely Says:

    touring led to my whole life, Marshall. It took me all over the country, showed me places I wanted to come back and visit with more time – the southwest, Rocky Mtn states, PacNW, New England – and eventually led me to move out here, which was the single most important decision I ever made since it led to me meeting my wife among many other things…

  9. Marshall Says:

    Actually I was on the floor for the two nights I went, but I have been in that balcony many other times and felt it move more than I was comfortable with.

    I took a guy who was a pretty big dead fan to the first night of that 1995 Fox run – all he could say afterwards was “I didn’t know.” He’ just kept saying it.

  10. Marshall Says:

    All this talk about 11/9/1995 has led me to spin it again. I love Tweezer Reprise as a Set 1 opener.

    Miner – you really should give a review of this 3 night run sometime.

  11. wvbrdr Says:

    I just listened to that 7-29-97 antelope AW was talking about earlier….wow. Also just vinished up that 7-2-98 (i think) ghost … wow. having a long bus/ferry commute home is definately enhanced.

  12. whole tour! Says:

    nice!
    gotta grab a phishthoughts hoodie!

  13. wvbrdr Says:

    i saw toots at a club in vail with a bouncy floor, one of the best shows i’ve ever seen. went outside and puked halfway through, and it was still awesome. lots of energy in that small room.

  14. Billy Breathes Says:

    @WaxBanks….interesting perspective you have on ‘Jiboo’ and ‘Sand’….as these tunes are the launching pads for some of the sweetest and most complex jams out there.

    Just odd b/c you talk a lot about the ‘2 90 minute sets of improv’ that you want; and a lot about song ’structure’, or lackthereof, in general. And these songs are exactly that! I recall an article you wrote on the Tower Jam, and I love that stuff, would eat it up for breakfast daily if I could.

    At any rate, Sand is one of the heaviest/nastiest tunes out there, when it’s played correctly. They only did it once this last tour I believe, and it was surely a highlight of the tour, wonder why they didn’t play it again? Hmm.

    And for Jiboo, while a bit lighter and poppy, the jams that typically develop out of it are ones to be followed closely. The Toyota Park version was spicy…some nice sweet spots there indeed.

    Why no love here?

  15. halcyon Says:

    wvbdr…..you speak of Garton’s which then became 8150….my current hometown venue….It was built over a parking garage which gave the floor motion. It was a fun venue before they decided to tear down the entire building and build something bigger 🙁

  16. halcyon Says:

    wvbrdr…..you speak of Garton’s which then became 8150….my current hometown venue….It was built over a parking garage which gave the floor motion. It was a fun venue before they decided to tear down the entire building and build something bigger 🙁

    I remember De la Soul performing in 98, and I don’t think that floor ever bounced harder

  17. Mr.Miner Says:

    anyone have a request for download tomorrow? We’ve gone through the entire summer….first response gets it (if not already posted) and soon you’ll be able to download ALL shows from this site in one place in the soon-to be-formed Phish Thoughts Audio archive thanks to some loyal readers- whose screen names are escaping me right now- but they will get their propers. That is for sure! Huge community move by these guys

  18. Mr. Completely Says:

    yeah that’s a big project and a serious upgrade

  19. halcyon Says:

    How about this one for tomorrow?

    10-25-96 Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

    1: Ha Ha Ha, Taste, Makisupa Policeman, Maze, Billy Breathes, Mound, Guelah Papyrus, I Didn’t Know*, Stash, The Squirming Coil

    2: Tube, Prince Caspian, Timber (Jerry), TMWSIY-> Avenu Malkenu-> TMWSIY, NICU, Free, Strange Design, Harry Hood, Cavern, The Star Spangled Banner**

    E: Johnny B. Goode

    *Fish introduced as “Morton Charleston Heston”. **A capella.

  20. Marshall Says:

    Miner – my request for the Atlanta Fox run in on one of the previous pages -one back maybe.

  21. alber walker Says:

    One of my favs from 94

    11/22/94

    1: Buried Alive, Poor Heart, Horn, Foam, Guyute, I Didn’t Know, Bouncing Around the Room, Down With Disease, Sweet Adeline

    2: Funky Bitch, Lawn Train#*, Y-Rushalayim Schel Zahav, Cry Baby Cry, The Curtain, Blackbird, Runaway Jeff, Big Black Furry Creature From Mars, I’m Blue I’m Lonesome, Instrumental, My Long Journey Home, Harry Hood**, Highway to Hell

    E: Lizards

  22. Leo Weaver Says:

    Marshall’s got a good one there…or 09.28.99 for another taste of southern comfort and great all around show – sorry, I’ll quit pimping this show someday 🙂

    Where’s WT!?

  23. alber walker Says:

    we loved those early Guyute’s when they first busted them out
    before shelving and reworking them

  24. Marshall Says:

    Actually my request is on this page at 4:48 pm. The 95 Fox shows from November.

  25. Leo Weaver Says:

    that’s a good one too Hal…Miner, looks like you’re set for the rest of the week

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