Phish's New Album Leaves A Mark, Even When It Wasn’t Supposed To
“Sigma Oasis” is the 15th studio album from Phish and the first in a few albums to not be produced by Bob Ezrin. Instead, the album is mostly self-produced with some help from Vance Powell who has worked a lot with Jack White and his various other bands as well as Arctic Monkeys, The Revivalists, and Wolf Mother.
“Phish weren’t supposed to release an album in April. But, then again, we weren’t supposed to be locked in our houses this April," says WYEP’s Joey Spehar. "Instead, we were supposed to be getting ready for summer and things like a Phish tour. However, that’s not quite how it shook out and we all must compromise. Phish were working on an album. That part is true. Last fall the band holed up in The Barn – Trey Anastasio’s home-base for band practice and studio work. They decided it was time to get some ideas down on paper. Or tape. Or digital files? Anyway, they had some songs they’d been playing live for a few years and went to work."
For years, the biggest complaint about Phish albums has been that the band’s work in the studio always fails to capture the essence of what makes Phish still exciting almost 40 years in – the jams that happen live on stage and the feeling the fans get in their seats.
“It’s hard to get that magic on tape, yes. Until four-dimensional recording is possible, that’s just the way it has to be. However, about half-way through 'Everything’s Right' – a 12-minute excursion on 'Sigma Oasis,' something funny happens. The music feels exciting, nervous, and completely comfortable all at the same time. I also love how much Paige uses his synthesizers on this record,” says Spehar.
Over the years, some have also complained about the simplicity of the band's lyrics. However, listeners that feel that way might be surprised by this album.
“If we want to bring up complaints about Phish again, one major one from, mostly, non-fans of the group is that their lyrics are dumb. I will concede that not everything in the catalog reads like beautiful poetry, but that’s not the point. Kurt Cobain famously put minimal thought and effort into lyric writing, so there. However, I really like 'Shade.' It’s a ballad as sappy as they come, but as far as Trey and his long-time writing partner Tom Marshall’s lyrics go, this one is about as clear as they come. And it’s beautifully sung. This is the sweetest Trey’s voice has sounded since 'Waste' from Billy Breathes in ’96,” says Spehar.
Give the album more than one listen to pick up on the small nuances Phish has hidden in the album.
“I played it as background music the first time, but kept catching things that I wanted to pay closer attention to. Little details, weird sounds, a well-hit note, it’s all there and it made me take a closer listen. Kind of like the album itself, it made a mark even when it wasn’t supposed to,” says Spehar.
You can hear Joey Spehar’s full album review here: