Mike Gordon

Inside In

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One would expect a down-home virtuoso performance from any alumnus of Phish, and that's what you get with Inside In. The album's essence lies in the relationship between the loose, improvisational feel of the performances, and the precise arrangement of diverse tracks into a single identity. When silence separates one from another, it's often to very dramatic effect, especially when positioned to contrast with an especially deft segue. For example, Michael Gordon's acoustic guitar grafts a fingerpicked feel over the slow-drag shuffle of "Soulfood Man," then accelerates into an amiable, country toe-tap on "The Teacher," without so much as a ripple in the groove. These velvety transitions set up a naked a cappella reference to "vomit" at the end of a comic monolog mumbled over dizzy diminished chords; this makes the equally abrupt finale into a recapitulation of sorts. Pictures of oddball characters emerge in lyrics that depict the Soulfood Man, the Teacher, and the Couch Lady as sketches, vibrant yet filled with space for the listener's imagination to fill. Instrumental moments range from straightforward, low-tech jams, which not unexpectedly emphasize interaction over chops, and abstract episodes marked by strange juxtapositions -- avant-garde jazz, straight-ahead funk, and country pedal steel on "Major Minor," or the pinprick staccato of Béla Fleck's banjo over a woozy trombone in "Steel Bones" -- that blend with uncanny ease. There's no better way to describe this weird and accessible mix: Inside In is far out.

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