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Phish - Junta CD (album) cover




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4.08 | 87 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
2 stars 'Junta' - Phish (4/10)

I find this to be a very difficult album to review for one simple reason. Much like a feudal society, there are alot of songs ranging from poor to mediocre (the peasants) yet a few tracks which blew me away (royalty.) This is a band I knew nothing about before buying this record, and simply purchased it in the faith that I would enjoy at least part of it. With all the comparisons between them and the Grateful Dead as being the new quintessential jam band, I couldn't help but pick this one up.

For those that know nothing about these guys, I would place their sound somewhere between college rock, psychedelic music and jazz. There are plenty of other little influences thrown in for good measure, of course. The album starts off with a relatively laid back track led on by some pleasant jazz chords and some vocals that would sound out of place in a ska or alt-rock band. It is also during the first track where Phish's quirky lyrical sensibility is discovered. Suffice to say, singing about a chimpanzee getting a paper cut on his nipple then tumbling off of a boat into shark-infested waters certainly isn't Shakespearean. There is an obvious Frank Zappa influence on these guys though, covering more than just the words and bad humour. Alot of the superior parts of the album tip the hat to old Zappa greats like 'Hot Rats.'

The places where this album really shines is during the structured instrumentals. 'You Enjoy Myself,' blew me out of my chair when I first heard it. While I may not be able to get into all of this band's music, I can say with conviction that they are talented musicians. Sweeping arpeggios set to jazz tones and complex riffs are definately plentiful here. The more involved, longer tracks on the first disc are apparently where Phish threw all of their brilliance into; from a musicians perspective, they are about as tight and intelligent as you can get for the style.

If all of the tracks on 'Junta' measured up to the success and quality of 'You Enjoy Myself' or 'The Divided Sky,' I would not be surprised if this became one of my favourite albums. However, there is a bit too much here that ranges from being boring or silly to plainly unlistenable. The first disc is actually quite solid, and has all of 'Junta's high points. It's the second disc however, that really drags the album down. With the possible exception of 'Fluff's Travels' and even fleeting moments of the twenty three minute improvised jam 'Union Federal,' disc two works out to be a maladjusted mess. The troubles start coming into full view with 'Contact,' a song which explains to the uneducated listener, the definition of 'tires' and what they can be used for. Don't get me wrong, I understand fully that these guys are trying to be funny, but it gets a bit ridiculous when that's the only sort of lyric you opt to write. The worst part is saved for the very last, where they take an excerpt from a particularly dazed live performance and tack in on. While the sound quality is understandably poor, the music and performance is practically unlistenable. Going from being virtuoso jazz-influenced musicians on tracks like 'You Enjoy Myself' to incessantly snickering in between verses and screaming incomprehensibly into the microphone leads me to the conclusion that they were under the influence of narcotics while performing. They must have also been under the influence when they decided to include those on their studio debut as well.

I can draw alot of comparisons between this and Porcupine Tree's debut, which came out around the same time. There are flashes of brilliance, but they are bogged down by alot of tracks that don't need to be listened to more than once to realize they aren't worth the time. However, despite my harsh criticisms, this debut has in fact suceeded in the sense that I am now intrigued by this band and their vast potential for making great music. As a result, I will be keeping a look out for other albums in their discography.

Conor Fynes | 2/5 |


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