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. beepaphone Says:

    Yeah like the flub on the Ocelot solo??? how? was it on purpose? On a studio album?? I couldn’t get past that.

  2. EL Duderino Says:

    I understand Miner’s critique of Joy. My take on it is, maybe Phish wasn’t looking for cohesiveness. Concept album wasn’t in the vocabulary for this album. It’s more like a Picture of Nectar IMO. Different styles of music and different kinds of tunes. True that Picture is a more wide range of styles of music than Joy.

    Picture of Nectar and Billy Breathes are my favorite Phish Albums. The production on Billy is by far superior to anything before and after IMO. To me Joy is the best thing since Billy. KDF I like but although not my favorite on the album. For me Light is a buzz kill piss break tune. I can do this and make it back by the jam, so for me it’s like whatever.

  3. beepaphone Says:

    Highlights for me on the album:
    STFTFP- awesome and the solo has some legitimate shape-shifting going on. Great transition to studio and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few stations out there gave it a spin.

    KDF- Rocks hard. Like a slightly watered down version of Chalkdust but without the ascending arpeggios at the end or some similar musical protein. I didn’t like it at first, then I turned it up.

    TYL- Lyrically and harmonically a very strong effort

  4. Wax Banks Says:

    Call a spade a spade: this is Trey’s record, and it’s half of a larger project all about addiction/recovery/rebirth along with ‘Time Turns Elastic.’ Listen to the orchestral version of TTE in conjunction with this album and the rationale for writing pop-rock songs instead of big prog epics (a la ‘Reba’ and ‘Fluffhead’) becomes clearer: Trey did write a giant multipart composition during his ‘time off,’ just like the fans were moaning for, and now half the fans piss on it.

    I like hearing the man work through his problems joyfully and confidently among friends. He gives me hope. So does TTE: I like watching genius work.

    It’s an affecting album and sounds like it was a blast to make. I won’t listen to it much, but then I don’t listen to any Phish album except Rift or Billy Breathes with any regularity. Oh well.

  5. beepaphone Says:

    Well said, Wax. Exactly on the Rift and Billy Breathes too.

  6. sq3.0 Says:

    First time poster…

    Sounds like Joy will be an enjoyable album to listen to, if not the musical opus the band was hoping to release. The album that turned me into a phish phan was Rift. Talk about a cohesive album. So many great tracks beyond the “singles.” Seldom-played live songs like “Weigh”, “It’s Ice”, and “Mound” are great b-side tracks that still find their way onto my Ipod playlist. When “The Wedge” and “My Friend, My Friend” turn into the straight-forward jazz intro to “Weigh”, I knew I loved this band.

    Unfortunately, there has been little out of the studio recently to recruit true music lovers to the legions of phish phaithful. That said, I have really enjoyed listening to this last tour. I have yet to attend a show in the 3.0 era, but can’t wait to get the chance.

    On a side note, a friend of mine was at 8.15.09 and said the scene on the lawn was terrible. Clearly a bunch of severely fucked-up college-aged kids who had no respect for the music or the true fans there to enjoy the band. Where would you rate the level of drug and alcohol use at shows compared to Summer 2004? I’m definately not against enjoying a nug and a couple of beers, but when people are on all sorts of hard drugs and falling all over you, I can see how that would not be enjoyable. Does Mr. Miner or anyone else have any perspective on the scene?

    With everyones enthusiasm for Trey’s sobriety, it seems that his problems would help people reconsider their own decisions. What is the point of spending thousands of dollars following your favorite band around if you’re not going to remember the music? Maybe I’ve become square in my old age of 26, but reports of the scene on the lawn at MPP have me disheartened.

    Haven’t received my copy of Joy yet, but I can’t wait to have a new disc to listen to.

  7. sumodie Says:

    @Wax: Just curious to learn why you won’t listen to Joy much, as your comments sound positive. Of course, I can understand that live phish may be the only phish worth listening to…

  8. Lycanthropist Says:

    nice post Wax.

    This is something that I have wanted to bring up but been reluctant to.

    It is pretty strange that we all were clamoring for a multi-part epic and then when we get one “most” of us complained about it.

    i like it for what it is, and think it has potential. Its position in the first set makes it much better, and it is an enjoyable piece of music.

    not my favorite comp, but a comp nonetheless. A good sign for the future anyway…

  9. Marshall Says:

    The [insert band’s name here] albums existing at the time I initially got into the band, and those that followed very soon thereafter were/are great or good. The ones that followed in the years afterward are mediocre.

    The reason this is the case, in my case, and in my opinion, is that I think there’s something about music that is being discovered that makes it great, but once its discovered, the shine wears off a bit and anything that comes later can’t compare. It’s been this way with all bands I’ve ever been into, Phish included.

    This does not mean that I don’t love songs from Phish’s entire catalog throughout the years – just that my “impression” of the earlier albums is what it is, for the reasons I’ve stated above.

  10. Lycanthropist Says:

    and a good post to you too marshall ^^

  11. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    I think the album sounds great.

    Lots of direct and veiled references to time as it pertains to the universal impact it has on life. No shit, nearly every song. I would read someone’s pontification on that aspect, you know who you are start putting your thoughts together. ;P

    What if, the Ocelot flub is a glitch on the leaked album?

  12. cwc Says:

    I can’t remember the last time I listened to a Phish studio album. I would rather download and listen to a show I’ve never heard. Any show from this year is better than this studio album IMO.

  13. sumodie Says:

    RE: TTE

    I keep thinking about the article that says Lillywhite suggested the new album needed one of Phish’s long mulit-part epics -thus Trey reworked TTE for the band.

    While I have been a (frustrated) TTE believer, I wonder if the band made a mistake listening to Lillywhite and instenad should have gone ahead with their own vision for Joy (no TTE). From the article, it sounded like one of the last songs created was TTE -maybe the ideas that brought TTE to fruition were too rushed.

    I know hindsight is 20/20, but I guess I’m wondering if a producer ever had such a large effect on the band as Lillywhite’s suggestion that gave us TTE.

    I finally dl’ed a copy of Joy -couldn’t wait for my joybox…listening now…

  14. Walfredo Says:

    Billy Breathes is the best Phish record I’ve ever heard. I don’t agree with reviews that say Phish has always struggled in the studio etc. etc.

    Read 3 yesterday- that said Phish finally captured what they’ve failed time and time again to do in the studio. Imho- it just isn’t true…

    Farmhouse was also a good record- with a very good flow. I like the songs on Ghost better- but always cringe at that album when I listen.

    The leaked- poor quality version of Joy that I have- spliced w/ the ITunes version of TTE in the appropriate spot- is good. It’s production value is probably the best on a Phish record- maybe ever. The vocals sound good- but natural- not forced. Page and Trey both are showcased. Mike and Fish are showcased when appropriate. All of these songs are very well recorded…

    Now- the question becomes- how good are the songs? Do they make a great album? I think I agree w/ Minor- that unfortunately no. Sugar Shack and Light rank up with some of my favorite Phish studio stuff. Light reminds me of Billy Breathes with the really cool intro seguing into the normal song.

    I would disagree with Minor praising Undermind and Round Room as way more cohesive… I guess they flow better- but they are not very good records. Round Room especially- has no production value- it is literally a mixtape from the first take of some new songs… That is a theme- but not a timeless theme. Steve Lillywhite is very talented- and I think knows how to make Phish sound engaging in a 4 minute setting. Be interesting to hear how some of the tracks on Party Time turned out.

  15. Birddog Says:

    Sorry this is totally off topic, but can anyone refer me to a particularly dark and nasty Carini?

  16. Marshall Says:

    @ cwc – I think most people here agree with you. Nevertheless, they are releasing an album, which qualifies as phish news, and therefore deserves some phish thoughts on the topic.

    Phish albums exist for that segment of the population that simply don’t listen to SBDs and AUDs (or don’t listen to them YET).

    Personally, I would rather see Phish exist as a band that NEVER released studio albums. I think the studio is unnecessary when that’s NOT what the band is about. Phish could release compilation live albums, that only chronicled new songs, to satisfy the market described above.

  17. Marshall Says:

    @ Birddog – check out 2000/06/24 – Lakewood Amp, Atlanta (very nasty) and 1999/09/21 – Pima County Fairgrounds, Tuscon

  18. albert walker Says:

    I really don’t think they “need” a new compositional piece to appease fans searching for the old sound. I like simple rock music done right and I think they achieved that on several of the songs.
    Trying to appease these fans by putting TTE on the album does not make sense to me.
    I think the root of the problem is TTE is a composition that relies on it’s lyrics and lyrical song structure instead of an instrumental musical piece like YEM, Reba, Guyute, Fluff.
    To me TTE has nothing to do with composed prog Phish. It may sound similar to other 70’s prog pieces but not what you think of from Phish.
    These fans wanted 17 minutes of instrumental musical exploration and got a few different pop song structures strung together with a common theme.
    I don’t necessarily hate TTE, I find it kind of interesting at times, but it is not like the rest of the album or traditional Phish compositions. It is it’s own, and new animal that has not necessarily resonated with the audience to date mostly because of it’s lack of soloing, slower non danceable beats, and vocal foundation.

  19. CJ Says:

    Does anyone else think “Sugar Shack” could have fit in very nicely on the Rift album? It has a bit of the funk that they hadn’t yet discovered at Rift’s time, but otherwise it reminds me so much of that album: the lyrics could easily be interpreted to fit Rift’s concept, it’s quirky in its own way, and Trey’s guitar lines sound SO much like stuff from that era, like a mix of Rift, Wedge, Weigh, and All Things Reconsidered.

    Yes/no?

  20. beepaphone Says:

    Birddog – 8/11/09, 2/17/97 (first ever played, clocks in at 20 minutes) 12/28/98

  21. the foonshoe Says:

    Billy Breathes = a timeless Phish album.

  22. Marshall Says:

    @ CJ – I don’t know about Rift specifically, but I’ve written many times that Sugar Shack sounds a lot like old Phish (I’ve usually referenced Junta and Lawn Boy, but the Rift era applies as well, I guess). I think it has to do with fact that Trey’s writing has dominated much of the later years, as evidenced by fact that many of the band’s staples began as TAB songs. Thus, Mike’s influence has been lesser, maybe? anyway, I like SS a lot and definitely “feel” the connection to older-era Phish.

  23. Marshall Says:

    @ foonshoe – just curious … what year did you first get into Phish?

  24. Walfredo Says:

    Marshall- I think ignoring the craft of making albums would be a shame. It’s something the Dead pretty much did- once every 7 years or so at the end. that is not the sign of a healthy band.

    Part of me thinks Phish should really re-think what an album is. The belief that it is an opportunity to be more accessible and poppy seems a little short-sighted.

    A lot of bands whose records are way more popular- Radiohead comes to mind… Don’t write “pop” songs. Listening to the intro to Light, or Bliss off of Billy Breathes- or that bass-led jam on Undermind. I think it’d be cool if they did a studio project that was about abstract instrumentation. Just a different concept- less accessible- use the studio and its tools to make walls of sound. Mike’s Outside Out is the closest thing to this idea I’ve heard. Some of the tracks are so good- and could never be done the same way live. He really is becoming a wizard in the studio. His tracks sound way better recorded in the studio then live… Trey’s songs? The studio version tends to basically be the demo version of the song w/ no jam- and the vocals double-tracked. By the end of a tour- they are playing all of the songs better then how the recorded them before the start of the tour.

  25. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Kudos Marshall! Tucson ’99 is an often overlooked show.

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