Phish - Sigma Oasis Music Album Reviews

Phish’s instinctive new studio album is a pleasant surprise, a small joy, and an unlikely course correction.

Something interesting happens halfway through “Everything’s Right,” a 12-minute track on Sigma Oasis. For a while, it’s everything you might expect from a Phish record nearly 40 years into their career: an intentionally mind-numbing chorus (“Everything’s right/So just hold tight”) set to a melody that cycles between sunny major chords like a beach ball infinitely bobbing through a crowd of outstretched arms. It’s light and goofy—sorta funky. But then it shifts. Around the five-minute mark, after Trey Anastasio finishes a polite vamp on the word “alright,” he kicks off a guitar solo. Page McConnell follows on the organ. Soon, the whole band is in on it, listening intently to one another and changing shape, one note at a time. Suddenly, Phish is jamming, and you’re right there with them.

On a studio record by this band, it sounds like a total breakthrough. For longer than most groups have been around, the accepted wisdom was that Phish were unable to capture their spontaneous energy off the stage. Combined with their unremarkable songwriting, this failure has resulted in a discography that feels secondary to their actual legacy, best understood through decades of bootlegs, and even better by attending one of their inventive, Odyssean live shows. Maybe their last album, 2016’s obnoxious Big Boat, was rock bottom, the moment they knew something had to change. Maybe veteran producer Bob Ezrin, who departed after helming their past few releases, was to blame. Maybe Anastasio’s solo detour with Ghosts of the Forest was an actual creative reckoning as depicted in 2019’s fawning documentary, Between Me and My Mind. Whatever the case, Sigma Oasis is a pleasant surprise, a small joy, an unlikely course correction.

Its success is also the result of several smart creative decisions. The first was to bring these songs on the road for a couple years before solidifying them. The practice shows; these performances are lived-in and confident, at turns adventurous and refined. The second good idea was to limit the tracklist to just nine songs, all contributions from Anastasio and lyricists Tom Marshall and Scott Herman, with none of the failed experiments and pastiches that drag down nearly all their other albums. The third good idea was to keep the sessions brief and in-house: the whole album was recorded in just one week at Anastasio’s Vermont studio. The plan was to rehearse for their upcoming tour but they quickly realized there was something worth documenting. They trusted their first takes. They had fun.

Sigma Oasis cruises in the relaxed, muted groove this band has settled into over the past few years. None of these songs are new territory for them—the crunchy escapism of the title track, the rock opera Hallmark card of “A Life Beyond the Dream”—but they top anything they’ve recorded in the past decade-and-a-half by capturing their comfortable dynamic with a positivity that radiates from every note. Along the way, they nod to the stylistic diversions that pop up in their live shows: intricate prog (“Mercury”), Zappa freakouts (“Thread”), singing-in-the-shower balladry (“Leaves”), sci-fi atmospherics (the final moments of “Everything’s Right”). You can listen from beginning to end and get a sense of the buoyant, utopian universe they create when they’re playing at their best. And as jam band culture seeps into indie music and beyond, it’s a more concise introduction to their current state of euphoria than, say, a 36-disc box set.

Of course, there will always be people for whom Phish are irredeemable—the punchline in the great joke that is music fandom. Maybe you will tap out by the third time Anastasio tells you that “the tomb of the red queen is painted in vermilion” in “Mercury.” Maybe it’ll be when Page grabs the mic to sing a sad little verse near the beginning of “Leaves.” Maybe it will be during the breakdown in “Thread” that sounds like the house band at a suburban planetarium soundtracking their Halloween light show. These moments are ridiculous—but there’s also triumph in them. Part of the joy in Sigma Oasis is how Phish have learned to bridge their absurd side and their tasteful side, acknowledging that their best ideas have always lurked just one measure ahead of their dumbest ones. Credit also goes to Vance Powell’s production that seems more influenced by soundboard recordings than the slick, big-budget rock albums that this band will never successfully make.

Not everything works. The studio version of “Mercury” fails to live up to the marathon renditions they’ve been playing on tour. And at 11 minutes, “Thread” closes the album by overstaying its welcome with a lurching, menacing coda that punctuates an otherwise uplifting record like a question mark. Plus, there are those lyrics I mentioned earlier from “Everything’s Right” and plenty of others that wouldn’t fare much better printed out of context. But these are minor complaints. “When we recorded the album, we didn’t plan to release it this way,” Phish announced after debuting it with little warning during an April Fools livestream. “But today, because of the environment we’re all in, it just feels right.” This deep into their career, most bands could do a lot worse than sticking together, looking inward, and following their instincts. The rest, they have time to figure out.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Phish - Sigma Oasis Music Album Reviews Phish - Sigma Oasis Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on April 16, 2020 Rating: 5


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