It was inevitable that, at some point, I was going to review a Phish record. The question has remained, which record to review? I have decided, that for a host of reasons, I will make the case that their 1993 release, Rift, stands as the "one" studio record of theirs to own. While I myself can make the case for many of their other studio albums, I will ignore them and their virtues for the time being.
Nearly everyone has heard of Phish, yet few people beyond their fervent fan base have actually heard the music itself. Though sometimes deserving, they have been given a reputation for endless, winding jams that are only enjoyed by hippies. The reality is, they are four undeniably talented musicians, and their studio recordings are very accessible to the "average" music fan. While many times, their lyrics are perhaps a bit nonsensical, throughout Rift, the songs have very universal themes and the phrases go from quirky and funny to lyrics that are simply beautiful.
While the band would have you believe that Rift is, in fact, a "concept" album, if you ignore this and take it as a collection of mostly unrelated songs, you will enjoy the record far more. The band opens the record much like their previous album (1991's A Picture Of Nectar), with a rocket-speed, barn-burner of a song (this time it is the title track). The band takes the rest of the record constantly shifting speeds from hyper to sluggish and everything in between. The band does extend some of the songs into brilliant jams ("Maze"), but for the most part, they are well structured, clear, concise pieces. The trio of "Sparkle," "Horn," and "The Wedge" keep the album moving and are three of the best songs on the album. Another highlight is when Phish's bizarre bassman, Mike Gordon, for the crowd favorite, "Weigh."
One of the normal "complaints" about the music of Phish is that, for some unknown reason, the guy with the worst voice in the band is the one who sings most of the time. However, as is the case on their first few albums, most of the songs on Rift work perfectly with Trey's voice and the only time you hear the other band members, they are not singing seriously, so it is not as obvious. One of the high points in the record, both musically and lyrically is the back to back pairing of "The Horse" and "Silent In The Morning" which ends the record. These are two of the most gorgeous songs that the band ever created and, though they make very rare appearances, are always highlights of their live shows.
Phish have carried the torch of the "jam band" scene for a majority of the past twenty years. Their live performances are legendary for their length, energy, and courage in experimentation and improvisation. Though most fans will tell you that their studio albums are weak in comparison to their live shows, to "get your feet wet" with this extremely important band, it's probably best to start with their studio work. As they progressed in their career, Phish's studio albums became more concentrated, and perhaps a bit less experimental in nature. Their 1993 album, Rift, is one of their best and is a great starting point for anyone who has yet to experience these music legends.
Standout tracks: "Rift," "The Wedge," and "Mound."