- by Kevin Hogan (@radiator9987)
60) Seven Below - Round Room
Bryce Goggin ended up producing a band that was already imploding in the earliest stages of 2.0 but still coaxed the best from the band. Seven Below is driven by Fishman’s loose 16th snare and ride over a syncopated bass drum. It lays the foundation for a cinematic soundscape, haunting as it plows forward to a monumental conclusion. This is Phish distilling the past few years to its dramatic essence.
59) Kill Devil Falls - Joy
Joy is an album celebrating rebirth. Kill Devil Falls offer a cautionary tale about the ease with which you can slip back into bad habits. The short rocker with Anastasio’s driving guitar is perfectly placed on the album, offering the listener a little breather between the bigger pieces.
58) Waste - Billy Breathes
One of Phish’s earlier ballads, the recording here is flawless. Anastasio’s rolling guitar lurks just below the surface while McConnell’s piano line could have been from Pink Floyd in 1969. This is a band embracing the studio to create an almost perfect album.
57) Birds of a Feather - Story Of The Ghost
Here we find Phish just giving us a taste of what Birds Of A Feather would become live. This is a good thing as it helps them to avoid the pitfalls of playing extended solos that distract from the song as a studio creation. With its lyrics giving a nod to the community the band has built, a rapid-fire drum beat, edgy guitar, and production reminiscent of Talking Heads Remain In Light, this is everything you want from studio Phish.
56) Bathtub Gin - Lawn Boy
Page McConnell takes this Susannah Goodman penned song and ads a wild free form intro. Perhaps the best sounding song on Lawn Boy, they seemed to nail mix here and Trey’s voice complements instead of hindering the lyric like other songs on this album. The sound effects used here also complement and enhance the song, becoming a 5th instrument in the extended instrumental section.
55) Down with Disease - Hoist
The second track on Hoist is a bonafide Phish classic live and you could say the same about the studio version. By keeping it at 4 minutes we are given the bones of a song that can also stand on its own as a MTV video. The catchy rhythm gets started with Gordon’s memorable bass line before taking several left turns musically. The production is crisp and the addition of background singers puts this one over the top.
54) Dirt - Farmhouse
One of Phish’s darkest songs lyrically, where the singer seems to be contemplating suicide, is the most affecting thing they ever recorded. By adding strings courtesy of David Gusakov / violin, Laura Markowitz / violin, John Dunlop / cello, and Roy Feldman / viola, the song is given a strange majesty as if we are being lifted above the pain. Bryce Goggin captures the warmth of Anastasio’s string arrangement and allows the song to breathe.
53) Sample in a Jar - Hoist
Another radio-ready song off Hoist, Paul Fox did an amazing job smoothing out some of Phish’s inconsistencies in the studio and this is a great example. This is mostly due to the vocals, and how in sync they are, that lead to a climax with the whole band singing. It sounds a little dated today but is still a strong effort and worthy of repeated listenings.
52) A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing - Undermind
The dissonant intro breaks into waves that mimic the dark lyrics. Page’s vocal effect highlights Trey’s plaintive plea and his piano adds an ominous counterpoint. This track is a distillation of the internal strife of the band at this time. This is late 70s stoner rock at it’s best.
51) Contact - Junta
Thirteen songs written by Mike have appeared on studio albums but this is his best. With its quirky lyrics and simple rhythm, this is one of the standouts on Phish’s debut album.
50) Gotta Jibboo - Farmhouse
Phish have occasionally tried adding horns in the studio with excellent results. Farmhouse has several tracks employing this extra layer and Gotta Jiboo is taken to another level because of it. One of several Trey Anastasio Band songs that migrated to Phish for their Farmhouse album, it’s a great snapshot of the band trying to free itself from the Prog like compositions on their first 6 albums.
49) Split Open and Melt - Lawn Boy
Speaking of horns, Phish’s most famous foray into augmenting the band with horns came on the Summer 1991 tour with The Giant Country Horns. Here we find their lone studio appearance with Phish. This is one of Phish’s more challenging compositions and the almost free-jazz section after the vocals is the highlight with Mike shining. It would have been ranked higher, but, as with a lot of Lawn Boy, Trey felt the need to use a vocal effect that distracts more than enhances the lyric.
48) Theme from the Bottom - Billy Breathes
The longest track on Billy Breathes verges on being a bluesy ballad with the acoustic guitar, piano, and strong harmonies. That is until the instrumental break, here a case for letting Phish stretch it out a bit in the studio. The months of playing the song live served the studio version well and it may be one of their best group vocal performances.
47) Demand - Hoist
One of the strangest things Phish, or any other band, put on wax, Demand makes the list because it is Phish truly embracing the studio. Tape splicing, sound effects, and repurposing of live songs as Zappa loved to do are all executed perfectly. In reality, the Demand part of the song lasts less than 2 minutes before the music stops and we hear someone getting in their car ala Kiss Detroit Rock City. They pop in a tape and it is Phish from 04/21/93 doing Split Open and Melt. As the jam builds you can picture the driver going faster and faster until, crash with the prayer-like Yerushalayim Shel Zahav rising from the debris.
46) Magilla - Picture Of Nectar
If you didn’t know this was Phish, you could easily hear it as an unknown jazz standard. The years of playing songs like Take The A Train and Donna Lee really paid off in this Page McConnell composition. This may be the most swinging thing they ever laid down in the studio with the interplay between Mike and Page driving the song.