Round Room

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Phish reunited unexpectedly late in the summer of 2002. It was a bit of a shock, since their announced hiatus of 2000 seemed at least semi-permanent, yet this didn't have the vibe of a cash-in, even if their respective solo projects of the early 2000s didn't make many waves. The impromptu reunion felt spontaneous, as if the band simply felt like playing again. Certainly, the resulting album, Round Room, feels ramshackle, laid-back, and haphazard. Released mere months after its recording, it doesn't so much sound haphazard as it does unfinished, as if you're eavesdropping on a band rehearsal or even a writing session. Apart from the lovely, understated Farmhouse, Phish albums always meander, so it's nothing new that the focus is fuzzy on Round Room. What's weird is that there's very little shape to the songs. Often, only a bare sketch of a song is discernible, and even those are never played as if that sketch is final. Which all makes for kind of a murky listen and certainly not the cash-in crossover that a publicized reunion of a cult favorite could have been. Unfortunately, it's not particularly interesting, either, since it lacks the spirit of their live improvisations or, say, the layered ambitions of Trey Anastasio's excellent solo album of 2002. It is intermittently fascinating, particularly because this is as unvarnished as any album by a major artist, but instead of revealing a new side of Phish, it just sounds incomplete. Although this is kind of a disappointment, it's also kind of admirable because the band isn't afraid to work out the kinks in public, and it has enough intriguing ideas scattered throughout to suggest that now that this is out of their system, they have a better album ahead of them.

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