Phish fans still desperate to figure out why the 21-year-old jam band is breaking up following a short tour this summer will invariably look for clues scattered throughout Undermind, the band's last studio album and a fitting end to a musical career awash with eclecticism and technical proficiency. They'll find them, too: "Now waters run free/No more fish in the sea," sings guitarist Trey Anastasio on the lush "Two Versions of Me." "The time has come for changes," he implores on "Crowd Control." "What I hoped might linger is swept off instead," goes the chorus of "Nothing."
But if this is a lyrical sendoff, it's also a musical argument for the band to reconsider. Undermind is not only Phish's best collection of songs since 1996's Billy Breathes, it's also the first that capitalizes on both the band's live prowess and its much-discussed desire to make a cohesive studio record.
That's mostly thanks to producer Tchad Blake, who enhances a treble-heavy mix on "Undermind" by pulling up Page McConnell's funky keys, handles Anastasio's careful plucking on "Scents and Subtle Sounds" with hands-off diligence, and, on the shuffling "Nothing," makes sure that the three-part harmonies blend into one gorgeously multitracked vocal. With Blake behind the boards, Phish has finally found its studio self; that that discovery comes at the end of the band's career isn't so much a disappointing finish as a victory lap.
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