Review: Phish - Sigma Oasis
Phish take a moment to appreciate life during a time when it matters most.
On April 2nd, Phish released a surprise new album, which was announced during a Zoom-esque band appearance during their weekly Dinner and a Movie broadcast a few days earlier. The boys have been busy since 2016’s The Big Boat, and a lot has changed for them. Then again, a lot has changed for us all. The announcement of the album came while the world remained indoors, quarantined and following government-issued stay at home orders. Sigma Oasis is a thoughtful, positive record in the grandest Phish tradition, and has ended up becoming a welcoming distraction from the heaviness of the world. For the first time since 2000’s Farmhouse, all of the songs on this album were written by Trey Anastasio, with help from collaborators Tom Marshall and Scott Herman. This gives the album a very unified feel, which works in favor of these songs. There is a thoughtfulness in these tracks that makes for a somewhat nostalgic listen. Coming 37 years into a fruitful and varied career, it’s easy to see why many of these songs have such a laid back, wistful vibe. These guys have a lot to think about, and a lot of things to look back on. The title track opens things with a look into a brighter future, its sunny vibes beguiling the snowy black and white album cover. Things get more personal on the second track, the beautiful “Leaves”. With lovely call and response vocals from Anastasio and keyboard virtuoso Page McConnell, the song takes a beautiful and poetic look at the act of simply stopping to breathe and take things in when the going gets rough. These songs were recorded in November of last year, and many of them have been knocking about the live sets since at least 2015, but they seem to take on a little bit more depth during these uncertain days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, this doesn’t mean the album doesn’t leave room for some fun. It’s Phish, come on. Phish get Phunky on tracks like “Mercury” and album closer “Thread.” These rockier moments sit comfortably with the easier ballads, but even still, the contemplative lyrics give these songs just the right amount of heart, so that when “Thread” evolves into a classic Phish 15/8 synth-drenched jam, it’s a little bit easier to warrant. Perhaps the absolute highlight of the album is “Life Beyond The Dream," originally debuted live by Anastasio’s new band Ghosts of the Forest. The song opens simply with piano and electric guitar as Trey sings about Black Stallions and letting go of the past. Soon the full band has joined in, singing the simple but effective refrain: “Don’t give up hope / keep dreaming / keep on dreaming.” It’s no-frills, maybe a little too on the nose, but for a time like this, the simplicity and directness of these words strike a very touching chord. As the song swells to include a gorgeous string section and a classic rock gospel choir, the emotions build. By the time Trey takes a soaring solo at the end, you can’t help but smile. For a band known for mammoth live performances with huge crowds of devoted fans, there’s no doubt that there is some uncertainty in the Phish camp as to what the future may hold for live music, for them as well as literally every other band. Life may suck right now, and there’s certainly plenty of stuff to bring you down, but with Sigma Oasis, the good boys in Phish remind us to keep looking forward and to keep on dreaming.
Best Song: Life Beyond The Dream
Worst Song: Evening Song