I am in no way an expert in music theory, nor necessarily the Phish catalogue.
That said – as a minor-league traveler on tour (a pedestrian ~35shows), adherent to the fandom and culture, owner of many studio and live albums and as a member of this particular cadre of phans; I’m relishing this discussion.
Coincidence that it’s Friday and I‘ve completed all my work you ask? Well goodonya, purple jellybean for you!
Though hearing all of them, I’ve only truly immersed myself in 9 of the 12, so for the sake of speaking intelligently I’m limiting my opinion (for once) to Junta through Round Room (excl.Siket because WTF, right?) and my commentary to mostly 1-5 due to time but I may circle back. I’m sure all this pondering is going to lead me to a big re-listen/completest marathon.
It seems clear and agreed upon that its Junta and Lawn Boy as 1 & 2, but here’s my slant:
1.) LAWN BOY – Coil, Reba Melt, each track a lyrical backflip with a gold-medal caliber landing stick, punctuated by crazy yet flowing instrumental-marmalade crescendo. Each listen is a new maze for your ears to navigate, always something I missed or forgot about that bring literal closed-eye smiles.
The B-side? No big deal, except that OKP>Gin, Antelope, Bouncin’ are three of the most pitch perfect tour-phan anthems of all time. Junta is definitely the Obi-Wan to Lawn Boy’s Luke, it aims for and almost gets there, but the dark side of endless orchestral meandering in Foam, Sky and (I am aware this is blasphemy) YEM, can often leave this listener distracted by their shear immensity. Junta is Tolstoy, Lawn Boy brings the concision of Orwell, but let’s set the gearshift shall we?
2.) JUNTA – A magnum opus to be sure. YEM, Fluff and his Travels, Sky and Bowie are all masterpieces but they are standout stand-alones that could make a case for world’s greatest EP but tower over fun-but-by-comparison-less –significant tracks like Fee, Esther, Golgi, D & M and Contact. Lawn Boy is greater than the sum of its parts – Junta is merely great and so it gets il due, what’s Uffizi?
3.) RIFT – Now this may be getting some subconscious lift as Rift was the concept album that introduced me to the concept OF concept albums. So the Album/Dream leitmotif may just me tugging on my nostalgia strings but thems’ the breaks. Lyrically astounding, Rift, Maze, Wedge, Sparkle, Ice, Horse>Silent all helped me find my verbiage of the language of overwhelming wonderment and madness that I was experiencing in the late ‘90s. Whereas Lawn boy and Junta were great works, Rift felt like a great work that was meant for ME! (said the egomaniac) I could go on, but why-oh-why-oh-weigh…
4.) HOIST – Another one that spoke to me more than it needed to due to the heartbreak and love I was experiencing at the time, but also just one of the coolest jam-band-trying-on-a-new-hat straight ahead rock albums I’ve ever known. Julius, Down w/Disease and Sample had me playing out music videos in my head with their user friendly yet clever lyrical work and air guitar inducing bridges. I’d tell the girl who did it to me that Sample may have saved my life; If I could, I would.
5.) FARMHOUSE – We’re getting into the heart of the lineup now and it’s hard to choose without feeling like I’m wronging another loved work. But Farmhouse came along after I started touring (right about when Billy Breaths dropped) and was such a relief after Ghost (which was my first release experienced as a fully trained padawan in the phandom. A few random thoughts aside from the obvious beautiful instrumental and sing-along lyrical work. Track 1-12, not a discordant offering in the list. Some hauntingly sweet ballads in Dirt and Sleep. When they were fleshing these tracks out live we didn’t know all the names yet and I remember jotting down First Tube as “holy god, coolest thing ever” then I started rambling into a stream of conscious thing; must have been a mushroom thing…ok, clocks ticking so we gotta jibbo this thing.
6.) NECTAR – I mean; Tweezer/Tweeprise man; no words – should have sent a critic!
7.) BILLY BREATHES – It deserves far better than 7 I know. Just, as a complete experience a little too much soft, not enough pop – but I concede this is purely a taste thing.
8.) GHOST – Guyute for obvious reasons, Velvet Sea makes me weep, Moma is so funky I smell my shirt sometimes – but three standouts does not a top-fiver make.
9.) ROUND ROOM – ah yes, the Fredo Corleone of this subset – I have a guilty-pleasure affection for the Title Track and Mexican Cousin, and while not equal in any way to the triumph that is WTC; Seven Below and 46 Days are at least legit Phish songs. The remaining licks are as close as these guys ever get to garbage – which is meant more complimentary than it sounds.
Sweet Jeebus that was fun, now off to find my CD player.