HomeMusicReview: Phish, 'Sigma Oasis'

Review: Phish, ‘Sigma Oasis’

When a band like Phish releases a new studio album, my reaction is the same: “huh?” I’ve been a fan of the group for years, but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Phish knows the real action is in the live show. That being said, in these trying times, weirdly enough their new album Sigma Oasis is just what I needed.

Right off the bat, the production is handled much better this time around. The band taking charge themselves and working with Vance Powell (worked with Seasick Steve and Tinariwen, among many others) really gives their sound a warmth and depth that Bob Ezrin just wasn’t able to capture on his last work for them. The result is a much more authentic, less “plastic” and rigid-sounding Phish, which at least in my opinion is rare in their studio albums.

In typical jam band fashion, the album contains several songs that have been in tour rotation for the last few years. It’s always interesting to see what the band would consider a “definitive” version of songs that have only existed live for a time (plus this can help noobs figure out where the actual song starts and ends if the live versions are a little too daunting). A real standout is “Thread,” the 11-minute album closer. It approaches some sounds bordering on Phish in a live setting, which I am personally not familiar with in their studio work; the same can be said for the 12-minute “Everything’s Right;” it seems even in the studio, Phish is at their best when meandering through an extended groove.

As I listen, I am continually impressed by how much better this record sounds than most studio Phish albums. Even Trey Anastasio’s vocals, long a source of goodhearted jokes from Phans, sound focused and confident. The rhythm section of Mike Gordon on bass, Jon Fishman on drums, and secret weapon Page McConnell on keys fit together perfectly, much the way they do on stage. Trey’s guitar sounds less restrained than I’m used to in these recordings, far more exploratory, and with quite the pleasant crunch.

Really, Sigma Oasis is the perfect jumping off point for people who are new to the band and curious about where to start. The lyrics in some places are a little corny, but longtime fans know that’s pretty much Trey’s whole aesthetic when he’s singing, and Phish has never really been about the vocals anyway. The music here feels jubilant, if somewhat predictable, but most importantly it feels like Phish is really having a good time. Hopefully once life returns to some semblance of normality there will be ample opportunity to catch these songs in the wild once more.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Sigma Oasis by Phish is currently available on all streaming platforms, and record stores, and online outlets. Check out the band’s website for update info on their tours.

Andrew Howie
Andrew Howie
Andrew Howie is a Midwestern treasure who isn't exactly sure how to talk about himself without being sarcastic and self-deprecating. His music taste is pretentious and he wants to tell you all about it.

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