Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Irrepressible new genius from Phish

As you surely have heard, Phish is back. The Hiatus, which was actually their way of letting fans down easy, since they never intended to get back together, was truly just that. They returned to the road this summer. I was lucky enough to see them at Bonnaroo. I have to say, they sounded fantastic. A couple of other Phishheads and I kept looking at each other wondering if they truly sounded as good as we thought or if we were just so happy to see them after all these years we were just listening with a more forgiving ear. The consensus was they really were that sharp. Personally, I think the difference is that front man Trey Anastasio is clean these days.

I like these songs more each time I listen to them.

I like these songs more each time I listen to them.

At any rate, they toured this summer, they have a festival on the calendar for Halloween, and they have released their first studio album since “Undermind” in 2004. I was particularly excited because they went in to the studio with one of my favorite producers, Steve Lillywhite, who produced “Billy Breathes” in 1996 (Perhaps my favorite Phish album. Probably that or “Farmhouse”).  The first thing I’ll say for it is it’s good. Is it as good as “Billy Breathes?” No. Is it as good as “Lawn Boy?” No. It is as good as “Rift,” however, and it’s better than “Undermind.”

There are a few tracks that I didn’t like at all, though they may grow on me with repeated listens. ‘Kill Devil Falls,’ for example, sounded a little flat to me. It’s a familiar-sounding melody and I’m sure Trey could make one up just like it every morning in the shower (or however often Trey showers). ‘Time Turns Elastic’ is a 13-minute epic that has moments that positively sparkle and others that are a little cheesy. I would love to lift the 7 brilliant minutes and leave behind the 6 drab ones.

7 of the 11 tracks on the album are great and got ripped to my iPod. Give these a listen.

  • Backwards Down the Number Line – This is a nostalgia trip that looks back over the many years of a friendship and talks about how the fundamental nature of some relationships never changes.
  • Twenty Years Later – This song also looks back, but it’s less of a nostalgia trip than it is a “Wow. Look how far I got. And I’m still standing” The tempo is slow, but everything about it – the vocals, the instrumentation – is towering and it has a good rock feel, particularly the bridge near the end.
  • Ocelot – Trey loves creating characters and telling their stories. A playful song like this would be right at home on Hoist, or maybe Story of the Ghost.
  • Sugar Shack – Not the old Jimmy Gilmer classic, but a song from Mike Gordon. Like Trey, I love it when the other guys bring songs to the band. This has a great feel.
  • Joy – As beautiful a song as I’ve ever heard written to one’s daughter. And the melody is as sweet as the lyrics.
  • Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan – I heard someone theorize this is Trey’s song about his drug years. It fits. It’s a great wailing rocker too – a good vehicle for some towering solos from Trey live. He cuts it up pretty well in this studio version, for that matter.
  • Light – It took me a couple times through to make up my mind about this one. Ultimately, the joyful nature of the lyrics and triumphant chord progression won me over.

I have a friend whose musical opinions I very much respect who feels that this is Phish’s best album. I have to disagree, but I do agree that it is very good. I’ve seen them do a couple of these live. One of the songs I didn’t like on this album, ‘Kill Devil Falls,’ was pretty damn good live, so even the weaker material comes alive when you’re in the room with them. On the whole, I like this album a lot and hope they can keep it together for many more years, albums, and shows to come.

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October 14, 2009 - Posted by | Classic Rock, Jam Bands, Popular, Rock

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