Phish

Round Room (Elektra)

The hiatus is over. The world is safe for trampoline hijinks and glow-stick wars. The mighty Phish, once burned out and rudderless, has returned. And what's a rejuvenated jam band to do but jam hard for a winding, bending 78 minutes?

The twelve expansive songs on Round Room, the group's ninth studio release, erupted from an impromptu recording session last October at singer-guitarist Trey Anastasio's converted barn in Vermont. The record is Phish's loosest affair in over a decade, suggesting that the time away from one another gave members of the foursome the peace of mind they craved. While Anastasio and lyricist Tom Marshall write well-rounded songs -- and, frankly, have written better than this -- the musicians' need to explore and create as organic a groove as possible often usurps mere song structure, so that a countryish ditty like "Pebbles and Marbles" becomes a twelve-minute exercise in the intensity of ebb and flow and improvisational riffing. There's less pop (none of the great brevity of "Down With Disease" or "Heavy Things") and more drama. The same is true of the deliberate "Walls of the Cave," which initially features Page McConnell's lonely classical piano, builds into a pretty "Year of the Cat" facsimile and then plows its way through five minutes of white-boy funk.

Phish originally intended to debut the songs live and release the soundboard recordings, and an underproduced modus operandi is evident in these glorified demos. But the energy and enthusiasm are unmistakable and signal a return to the group's essential mission: to find harmony and purpose in rock and roll, spirits it's been lacking in recent years. Rock has needed Phish, and now it has Phish once again.

 
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