media review

The Vermont quartet's twelfth LP might be their best studio effort since Billy Breathes.

Album

Phish
Feugo

For their latest studio album, Phish tried something they’ve never done before. Instead of leaving the bulk of the writing to guitarist Trey Anastasio and lyricist (and unofficial fifth member) Tom Marshall, they locked themselves in Anastasio’s barn in the Vermont woods and hashed out the tunes. Then they surprised everyone at their Halloween show by playing the entire album (plus a few more tunes) as their “musical costume.” The move surprised even the most jaded Phans.

With the exception of the title track (recorded in part during a soundcheck during the Halloween run), the band leaves behind longer explorations and focuses on developing sonic landscapes. These tunes will inevitably evolve over the next tour. (Anastasio has mentioned that the band wants to focus less on playing covers.) Producer Bob Ezrin, whose fingerprints are all over albums by everyone from Taylor Swift to Pink Floyd, gives the band a wider sound, utilizing each member to their full potential and spreading around vocal duties a bit more. Keyboardist Page McConnell's vocals on the slyly grooving “Halfway to the Moon” are a perfect balance for Anastasio’s warbly tremolo fills.

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TWOD’s latest is a heart-rending little ride marking a brilliant texturalist emerging as a master songsmith.

Album

The War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream
Secretly Canadian

The music of Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs almost universally invites references to expansive landscapes, big skies, and the open road. It would be easy to dismiss such a unified collective reaction as lazy journalists cribbing from the same press release. In reality, it’s a testament to WOD mastermind Adam Granduciel’s gift for crafting deeply evocative and vivid images from sound. Indeed, when taking in Lost in the Dream’s steady, streamlined rhythmic underpinnings, long-echo guitar lines, minor-key melodies, and Granduciel’s yearning loner voice, it’s almost impossible to not imagine interstate wanderers fleeing heartbreak and seeking salvation.

Granduciel honed this formula on his 2011 release Slave Ambient. But “Red Eyes,” the first single from Lost in the Dream might be Granduciel’s melancholy masterpiece (the title alone conjures pictures of tearful, desperate late nights far from home). Exultant, full of longing, and bristling with the tension of driving acoustics, drifting baritone sax, and weeping synth strings, it’s a heart-rending little ride—one of many on an LP that marks a brilliant texturalist emerging as a master songsmith.

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This album is a prime example of the human element of music—real people, in a room, playing together.

Album

Robben Ford
A Day in Nashville
Mascot Records

The ingredients for a Robben Ford album have largely remained the same: sophisticated guitar licks, honest songwriting with a bluesy bent, and a robust, meaty tone. However, it’s that little extra bit of, well, Robben, which makes it work time and time again. His latest release, A Day in Nashville, proves yet again why guitar geeks flock to his shows and hang on his every note. Those notes might not be as plentiful as on his earlier records, but they hold more weight. His solo break on “Midnight Comes Too Soon” is as visceral and rootsy as anything he’s played in decades. At this point in his career, Ford could churn out another album full of the uptown blues that his fans will gladly eat up, but instead he chose to challenge himself and experiment with different textures while pushing both his songwriting and singing.

The sonic experimentation is most noticeable when trombonist Barry Green steps in. The big, round tone of the trombone seems to give the sextet a lift, while rhythm guitarist Audley Freed propels the group with his spot-on sense of groove and space. Ford’s tone doesn’t venture into much uncharted territory, but it covers a few subtle bases. On the funky “Top Down Blues,” Ford cops some Cropper-meets-Dupree riffs while the melody captures some of the essence of classic soul jazz.

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