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Round Room

Release Date: 12.10.02
Record label: Elektra / Asylum
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.


by: lance bauscher

After a two year “hiatus” the Vermont-based quartet Phish quietly ramble back into town -- and they’re still up to their old tricks. One might think that the post-9/11 world might alter their message and presentation, but Phish continues to make personal, improvisational music that try as it might, is a good ponds’-length from mainstream.

Phish’s new release, Round Room, is a loosely textured, often beautiful rock album. Contrasting other Phish studio albums which have often been critized for lacking the live feeling of their concert performances, the nearly 80 minute “Round Room” was recorded in four days after just a couple weeks of rehearsal following their break from all things Phish. The songs have a rough feel that are so lacking in pretension and packaging, they often seem an artifact from bygone days when the music industry wasn’t saturated with the spectrum of pre-packaged fluff and orchestrated angst.

Phish didn’t emerge from their self-titled “hiatus” to bluntly comment on the state of world. From the opening track “Pebbles and Marbles” (with its soft J. J. Cale guitar lines) which ponders our need and aptitude to find meaning and personal significance in the world, to the title track where the protagonist insists: “Put me in a square room and I won’t know what to say, I want a round room at the end of the day” -- Phish is still making reflective, fresh music that revels in the mystery and beauty of life while quietly and sometime goofily communicating the uncertainly and tangled patterns of relationships and the life of the mind.

With several of the tracks clocking in near or over ten minutes, front man Trey Anastasio and longtime band mates -- bassist Mike Gordon, pianist and keyboardist Page McConnell, and drummer Jon Fishman -- carve out a space in the music where notes have the prerogative to move around the mark. Most of the songs are penned by Anastasio and lyricist Tom Marshall and further develop Phish penchant for jamming around and between complex and delicate fugues.

But while the characteristic improvisational excursions that the band is famous for are dynamically present on Round Room (the jam in “Seven Below” captures the spirit of live Phish perhaps better than any studio tune to date), it is the rich melodies and emotional directness of the lyrics that hold the album together. The deep and abiding need for communication is the central theme of Round Room. But though the songs yield a personal intimacy, one feels that they are projecting beyond the story of lovers or friends to the world outside the round room. And in an moment in history where politicians communicate in cue card spin and political negotiation is neglected for ambition and force, perhaps Phish has something to communicate to the post-9/11 world after all.

- - - - - - - - - - - - About the writer: Lance Bauscher is a documentary filmmaker and freelance writer. His documentary film about Phish fans is in pre-production and Maybe Logic, a film about writer Robert Anton Wilson, is due this spring. 30-Dec-2002 8:19 PM