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. Marshall Says:

    Ok – I’ve seen the design (via the link) but from where do I order one? Remember, I am an idiot.

  2. Robear Says:

    ‘Feight’

  3. Marshall Says:

    About to go run – anyone got any suggestions for 40 minutes of pure Phish adrenaline? (Mini-set?)

  4. Mitch Says:

    marshall,
    take the highway to the great divide. they are on sale 1 for 3, 2 for 5.

    or just click on mr. completely’s name on his comments.

  5. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ Twwezer > 2001 (7.1.98)

  6. Robear Says:

    Marshall, you’re not alone, my brother. Click on ‘Mr. Completely’s’ name.

  7. beepaphone Says:

    Studio version of a song i heard the ocean sing 3 times on repeat

    runaway runaway runaway runa

  8. Marshall Says:

    The Gray Hall it is, then. 38.5 minutes – just about right. Thank you, Mr. Miner.

  9. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    for that length of time I always go with the YEM from 10-31-95

  10. Mitch Says:

    Mr. C,
    I really dig this idea. Nice work and nice design my man.

  11. Marshall Says:

    Thanks Robear – when I did that earlier it took me to his mediafile share page. It worked this time.

  12. SJC Says:

    Put any Taste from ’96 on repeat for 40 min. Great running music.

    Nice tees.

  13. EL Duderino Says:

    http://mixonline.com/live_sound/tours/phish-tour-profile-0909/

    New interview with Garry Brown

  14. Robear Says:

    Put the ‘RnR’ from Gorge 2 on twice.

    Albert Walker, you out there still?

  15. Lycanthropist Says:

    good afternoon all.

    just got off work.. re-listening to Joy.
    brewing some coffee.
    trying to think of the first book for a book club.
    wondering where i can see the t-shirts everyone is chatting about.

    am down with an album that has all new material (meaning that they haven’t played it live yet). I think thats where they make the mistake. All of these tracks (except for Light) are just crisp copies of the songs. This has been their fault in the album making process for a while.

    I really enjoyed Round Room I think because it was all fresh when I heard it. I also agree that Billy Breathes is often regarded in such high esteem because there are a lot of elements on that album that don’t make it to the stage. This is what makes it worth listening to cause you can’t get that Phish anywhere else but on that album…

    just some thoughts.

    good afternoon Mr. Miner, albert, Robear, Mr. C, Marshall, and everyone else too!

  16. beepaphone Says:

    YES the grey hall shows…i just got all 3 a few days ago but have only listened to the Ghost from 7/2/98, which is already, IMO, one of the best I’ve ever heard. tweezer>2001 just starting now.

  17. cottle Says:

    @ Lycan:

    Look at Mr. C’s mediafire page.

  18. Mr.Miner Says:

    “Beginning with the Red Rocks show, they are doing a separate mix directly from the stage inputs exclusively for online. This is a live mulitrack mix as opposed to a FOH soundboard/audience mic matrix. The files are uploaded nightly as both MP3 and FLAC formats for purchase.”

    ^^ From linked article. Very cool!

  19. Mr.Miner Says:

    beepaphone- forget about it- you are in for a treat. One of my ultimate Phish experiences you are listening to…Twwezer > 2001 for life 😉

  20. Mr.Miner Says:

    what up Lycan! I totally agree with your assessment. the Live > album model almost cheapens the album when it comes out. Great example of Round Room- that sounded FRESH and NEW becausue we never heard it. Those WERE the original songs instead of vice versa (to the listener) Obviously they recorded this before tour…

  21. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ Mr. C –

    Very nice design. Not too flashy. I like it.

  22. Lycanthropist Says:

    man i love the vocals on the verses of Sugar Shack.

    So great.

  23. albert walker Says:

    I’ll have to check out that 7/1/98

    Kind of past my time, have not heard a lot from that era
    Only saw Halloween and the festival that year
    97 fall began my hiatus

  24. beepaphone Says:

    Miner is a saint…i’m salivating already ^^

  25. Mitch Says:

    Maybe we can get the developer of an iPhone app to make it cost a dollar and all the proceeds go to the site also. I feel enought people would pay a buck that we could pay for a years worth of bandcake.

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