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. Mitch Says:

    p.s. Robear, your friend trey and the apple programmers aren’t allowed to post to the app store. so they may not be able to help. need to outsource to friends outside the company.

  2. Mr. Completely Says:

    @cottle – yes, that’s original. I did the initial design in a program called Freehand a few years ago and then finished it in Illustrator recently. It was based primarily on one photo that a friend gave me.

    Since the master file is vector art I can render it in any color combo, or at any size – we could do a PT billboard if we wanted to.

    The orange designs have too much Photoshop gradient detail added at the end to print well via cafepress – I did a test print of the first orange one and it kind of sucked. Looks killer printed poster size on photo paper though.

  3. Mr. Completely Says:

    @Marshall – “THANK YOU MR MINER” – does it come from Trey to us, or us to him – is there a difference? It’s a Phish Thought!

  4. Mitch Says:

    We could take this to the next dork level and put our names on the back so you know who each other is easier. again, taking it to that next level.

    one tour i was “mango rhinehardt” for team mango. we all had to do a play on words with mangos.

  5. albert walker Says:

    Should print the

    Thank You Mr. Miner on the back or a fatty quote like from his writings like

    “I want to mainline that Red Rocks tweezer” Mr. Miner

  6. albert walker Says:

    Just pictured you douches with your matching t shirts
    getting your screen names printed on the sleeves- early eighties style all doing synchronized dancing during TTE

    great shit LOL

    just kidding love the idea and design

  7. Marshall Says:

    Mr. C – OK , got it. I am an idiot. Sorry.

  8. Mr. Completely Says:

    @Mitch – great idea – I was considering offering customized ones for extra donations but I don’t have the time do make them anytime soon.

    @albert – we wanted to keep the full lyric off there for staying out of trouble reasons

  9. Mr. Completely Says:

    “doing synchronized dancing during TTE”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA

    That’s great

  10. Mitch Says:

    Mr. C,
    We had a company based on so-cal do our Hampton shirts and they came out AWESOME! We got a call from the guy making them about how jealous he was that we were going to the reunion. Cool people and might be easy to pickup on the way to the fest.
    Just thought I’d mention in case people want a nicer quality shirt. American Apparel shirts with great prints. We could charge more on top for the site cause thats what this is all about but I think the shirt would turn out nicer than cafe press. Tho it takes more coordination. Again, this is a fund raiser but we could take it to the next level.

  11. 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?

  12. Mitch Says:

    “doing synchronized dances during TTE”

    hahaha. i’m in. i picture napoleon dynamite with hand gestures. not the end of movie but the one in class.

  13. Mr. Completely Says:

    @Marshall – no, it’s ambiguous, but as I just mentioned we thought it best to not venture into copyrighted territory lyrically speaking

    the “Mr Miner” is implied. It could be “Thank You” for anything. Seems like something The Trza is thinking a lot these days, right?

  14. cottle Says:

    Shows what you know, Albert.

    I only do synchronized dancing with people who have a yellow number 3 card….duh.

    🙂

  15. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    I am always fascinated by the aspects of taking an anonymous forum particularly when there are intersections when the unknown can become known.

    Hook it up Robear for Indio.

    Señor C, your straw hat is most likely worn raw on one axis.

    FWIW I am a visor or sombrero guy.

  16. albert walker Says:

    given it is really an adaption of the Harry Hood milk commercial that Phish has taken their own liberties with you kid be OK with the Thank You Mr. Miner line

    I also thought Phish was OK with shirts unless they had the actual Phish logo
    you should be OK

  17. Marshall Says:

    I will buy one and then wear it anywhere except a show. My spacesuit would get jealous.

  18. Mr. Completely Says:

    @Mitch – a couple issues there.

    First of all I don’t like American Apparel shirts. And the guy who owns AA is a psycho. But mostly I just don’t like the fit of the shirts. They’re basically always a size smaller than they say they are.

    The main reason to go with a cafepress or zazzle thing though is that there’s no setup cost at all, no minimum, no paying to get X shirts made and then what if they don’t sell?

    If your company could do something like that, I could look past the American Apparel thing.

  19. fromthetub Says:

    Mitch – would you be willing to share the name of the screen printer in so cal? I’m always looking for good vendors.

    Mr. C. – Awesome shirts!! Excellent work. 🙂

  20. jonathan Says:

    1st set in Chicago = uneventful? Paul and Silas, Curtain With, and debut of Windy City? Maybe it was “uneventful” if you’ve seen every show on tour.

  21. wvbrdr Says:

    Mr C, that is a sweet design. I may have to break my rule and actually own a piece of phish apparel. But, as AW suggested, I want that “I want to mainline that Red Rocks tweezer” quote on there, f-ing classic.

  22. Mr.Miner Says:

    can’t wait to see em around…..

  23. albert walker Says:

    I actually think AA CEO gets a bad rap. Made a vertically integrated company in downtown LA and makes pretty good products. Does things his own way. I also find the numerous sexual harassment cases hilarious or the lawsuit with Woody Allen. I understand why mainstream corporate America is against him, but as a supporter of things that go in the face of mainstream culture I fully endorse American Apparel and what he stands for. Making good products here in the US with a sexual, party, hedonistic, 70’s influence. No complaints here.

  24. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^ lol @ Tweezer quote…. I stand by it….

  25. Mitch Says:

    Gotta look up our order then I’ll post the name.

    Knowing they are a size smaller means you order one size bigger and your set. I really like their shirts. We didn’t screen press because we only made 5 or so but they came out great. No setup cost, no nothing, just pay for the shirts and the fee. Came out cheap in the end for a shirt that will last a long time. Too bad I gave mine to Trey… I really liked that shirt. haha.

    btw they do screen printing too and we could prob do it since there are more on here than we have in team mango.

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