5 Takeaways From Phish’s Page McConnell & Trey Anastasio’s New Album ‘January’

The eight-song album arrived today as a follow-up to 2021’s December.

By Andy Kahn Mar 10, 2023 1:48 pm PST

Phish keyboardist Page McConnell and guitarist Trey Anastasio this week announced a new album, January, that was released today through their JEMP Records. As the title implies, the new album was recorded in January 2023 and serves as the follow-up to the pair of longtime bandmates’ 2020 album, December.

After spending a few hours with January and giving the 30-minute LP a few spins, here are five instant takeaways from the album from one-half of the members of Phish:

1. A Lot Changed Between December & January – (Stream “Life Saving Gun”)

Anastasio and McConnell’s previous collaborative album, December, was released in December 2020. The pandemic album was recorded at the familiar confines of Anastasio’s The Barn recording facility in Vermont and featured stark recordings of six classic Phish songs.

January consists of eight all-new originals written by Anastasio and McConnell. It was recorded in Brooklyn, New York at Trout Studios with longtime collaborator Bryce Goggin, who also worked on December.

Presenting a lusher production, the sound of January is distinctly more elaborate than the largely acoustic December. To achieve the fuller sound on January, McConnell utilized a variety of keyboards and synthesizers, while Anastasio played acoustic and electric guitars, drums and bass. The result is an album that sounds like McConnell’s 2021 ambient solo album Maybe We’re The Visitors filtered through the lens of Anastasio’s 2022 solo acoustic album, mercy.

2. Half Of The Songs Are Instrumentals – (Stream “Bell Jar Minuteman”)

In an interview with SiriusXM Phish Radio host Ari Fink, Anastasio talked about making January.

“We just walked into the studio with literally an acoustic guitar and a couple of synthesizers,” Trey said. “[The] songs are mysterious. They sound different. It was limiting, in a great way.”

Trey also revealed his affection for the all-instrumental Maybe We’re The Visitors and his belief that January shares some similar sounds with Page’s instrumental solo album. Trey mentioned Page prepared synth patches for their recording sessions and that he hopes the pair record additional albums for each remaining month on the calendar.

3. Lyrics Take A Different Tone – (Stream “Ambrosia Fire”)

The four songs on the album that do contain vocals present lyrics that are a bit more abstract and poetic than the recent output from the Phish realm. Trey’s penchant for oceanic scenery, lovey-dovey nostalgia, and tender hopefulness are almost completely absent from January. Instead, the lyrics avoid narrative while painting vivid imagery.

“Dancing In Midair” comes closest to falling into the usual tropes but manages to inject enough peculiarities to set it apart with lyrics referencing the “diablo sun,” “gypsy heat” and, for good measure, an “ebb tide.” The pulsating “Life Saving Gun” contains passages that bolster its frenetic nature with stream-of-consciousness verses hitting on such disparate things as “temporal silver men in sulfur vessels,” “percussion rinse,” “colonial ice,” “miso laceration,” “circle body warfare” and other wild word combos.

More of the same can be found throughout the surrealistic “Ambrosia Fire” lyrics, exemplified by lines like “checkerboard prism awakening,” “cat’s cradle resonator,” “orange sugar worlds,” “flip-lock pullies,” “peppermint wheels and kingfisher spots,” etc.

Page’s “I Strolled” paints similar eccentric scenes with lines like “Saw the sun inside the amber, saw reflections in my steel cocoon” and “I’m still tangled in my tree and vines” that are more obscure than some of his other more-straightforward Phish songs like “Army Of One,” “Most Events Aren’t Planned” and “Halfway To The Moon.”

4. Biggest Batch Of New Trey/Page Songs Not Tied To Halloween – (Stream “Dancing In Midair”)

Phish celebrates 40 years of being a band this year – 38 of which have included Page as a full-time member. Over the last four decades, Page and Trey have shared songwriting credits on several songs in Phish’s catalog, though typically alongside the other members of the band, drummer Jon Fishman and bassist Mike Gordon.

The eight new original songs on January mark the first time Trey and Page have written this many songs together at once, not counting recent full-band songwriting for the Kasvot Växt, Sci-Fi Soldier and Chilling Thrilling Sounds Halloween costume sets.

While some songs like “Dancing In Midair” sound like Trey’s work and “I Strolled” feels squarely like a Page song, overall the record and its compositions come across like equal parts of both musicians.

5. Phish Should Play These Songs Live – (Stream “Lunar Nickel”)

“I hope Phish plays this song live in concert” was a common thought that popped into my head as each track on January unfolded.

Standout instrumental “Lunar Nickel,” with Trey employing a Mark Knopfler-esque tonal quality, is perhaps most Phish-stage ready, but others like the singles “Dancing In Midair” which is slightly remnant of “Miss You,” and the angularly abstract “Life Saving Gun” are also likely crossover candidates.

The album closer, “Ambrosia Fire,” and its free-form lyrics and wobbly synth layers could fit nicely late in a second set when everyone needs a breather but maybe not a typical ballad. “I Strolled,” the lone song on the album featuring Page on lead vocals, could be another option for him to get the spotlight during Phish gigs.

Vibrant, synth-driven instrumental album opener, “Euphonic Cocoon” has the potential to be a launching pad for exploratory improvisation in the live context. Fellow vibey instrumental, “Bell Jar Minutemen,” comes across as what you’d get if Phish’s acoustic instrumental “The Inlaw Josie Wales,” was remixed by Daft Punk and might be a successful jamming off-ramp as well.

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