You're either a believer or you're not when it comes to this hugely popular live band. Well, the lines get blurred here, just as they did a quarter century ago on the Grateful Dead's American Beauty. As he did with the Da... more »ve Matthews Band, producer Steve Lillywhite puts a crisp stamp on 13 likable, easy-going songs and instrumentals. --Jeff Bateman« less
You're either a believer or you're not when it comes to this hugely popular live band. Well, the lines get blurred here, just as they did a quarter century ago on the Grateful Dead's American Beauty. As he did with the Dave Matthews Band, producer Steve Lillywhite puts a crisp stamp on 13 likable, easy-going songs and instrumentals. --Jeff Bateman
"With the end of the last of the great live rock bands coming near, and taking the studio albums that have spanned Phish's entire career into account, this album remains the band's best by far. From a standpoint that considers composition, performance, production, and general album aesthetic flow, this record is simply unparalleled.Those who would ignorantly dismiss Phish as a stereotypical "jam band" would do well to educate themselves with a thorough listen to "Billy Breathes." I'm not saying Phish isn't a jam band--indeed, they are THE jam band--but Phish completely transcends the negative stereotype of the genre, especially in "Billy Breathes." From the beginning to the end, this record shows the band's wide range of abilities: from full out rocking solos to perfectly-articulated, through-composed, rhythmically and melodically sound compositions. It is this balance of so many areas that makes Phish as great as they are.The album opens with two songs that are now staple goods in live Phish shows, two of the band's many signature rock anthems, "Free" and "Character Zero." These songs draw you in and show the band's ability to rock, and "Waste," a semi-charged anthem carries the flow of the album from the rock into the rolling melodic style of the rest of the album."Taste" is one of the greatest and most underappreciated songs in Phish's repertoire, probably because of the difficulty it presents in a live atmosphere. This studio cut, however, is nothing less than phenomenal. The song opens with the guitar and piano in a fast 6/8 feel juxtaposed over a duple-meter 2/4 feel by Fishman on the cowbell. The cowbell is more prominent, and you feel your foot tapping in 2/4 until Trey starts singing in 6/8 and the aesthetic whiplash that results takes a few moments to recover from but leaves your mind stimulated and ready to go for the rest of the track. After the second verse and chorus, the drums lock into 6/8 establishing a final sense of completeness for the beginning of the development. The final jam that carries the song to its brilliant climax is of the utmost quality. The guitar and bass moving stepwise up the D-scale while Page plays (circular?) chords in the treble of the keyboard carry you right in to the final resounding chords which conclude the piece. "Taste" is the kind of song that anyone who thinks Phish is a "stupid hippie jam band" would do well to listen to and then go play in front of a bulldozer.Another highlight to the album is "Talk," a beautiful acoustic ballad that again shows the talent behind the band's writing. Trey picks on a C chord with a stepwise chromatic line descending from the tonic all the way down to E, at which point the pattern is repeated. When Page comes in with a simple but profound little line in thirds over the top, the effect is chilling to the bone. The song doesn't develop much from there, it is a quaint little ballad where less is so much more than most other bands can put together.What follows "Talk" is another gem of Phish's repertoire, "Theme from the Bottom." Page opens the the song with a simple melody line that begins on D and F# but widens chromatically on both ends as it progresses outward to larger intervals. After a few progressions of this the rest of the band enters in a tasteful groove with the guitar and bass arpeggiating in harmony with each other. The song proceeds through the verse and chorus (a nice alternation between moving melodic lines and then chords) a few times, and after the second chorus a jam sets in that utilizes one of Phish's trademarks: one chord is established, and then the tonic of that chord becomes an extended pedal tone as the band moves around different embellishments. In this case, Trey and Mike crank out the pedal tone while Page hammers out different extensions of chords, moving up and up the keyboard as the chord grows and grows. At the climax, the instruments fade out and the band sings a beautiful a capella progression--a play on the words in the title--and the instruments slowly move back in. Another enormous build ensues, and as everything swells each instrument slowly loses its rhythm, as every musical element (rhythm, harmony, form, melody) fades away except for that one tonic "D" note which grows out of everything else. It's a brilliant ending, one that seems so simple but took such a brilliant band to come up with.The title track, "Billy Breathes," is simply gorgeous. It is an instrumental masterpiece, and a good deal of the credit must surely go to Steve Lillywhite, the producer, who is basically behind the wheel of every great band's greatest album. A complex harmonic structure used in such a way that you may never notice is supplemented by tasteful brushes on the drums, accentuated by a simple but effective organ solo, and reinforced by some great banjo playing in the background. Trey's guitar solo is one of the best I have ever heard. It is clearly a written solo, and it could not have been written for the style any better. One of the best guitar solos out there in terms of taste and aesthetics.The album begins to resolve with two interesting little pieces, "Swept Away" and "Steep," before going back to its roots with a powerful rock ballad "Prince Caspian," another epic finale tune that pops up now and again at live shows.All in all, you can't beat this album. If you don't think you like Phish, listen to this and repent. If you have heard a little Phish and would like to get better acquainted, this is it. Simply put, buy it. You'll be glad you did."
This may be the best one yet
jovaldo | 04/05/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Kudos to Phish for once again stepping out, doing what they want to do, making the album they want to make (and isn't that the reason we all love them so much!)I saw my first Phish show many, many years ago in front of less than 1,000 people (evidence that I'm not a newbie...and why do some Phish fans get snobby about new fans?) So I remember the club days, the wild experimental days...and I can honestly say, I don't think this album is out of line. Phish is all about changing, evolving, testing the limits (and their own limits), etc. This is a change for them...a test of sorts. If you look at wonderful past albums like "Junta," "Rift," "Lawnboy," "Picture of Nectar" we see the band trying to "re-create" jams in the studio, which somewhat worked. Here though, the band has crafted true songs, that in some ways are actually more open to being experimented with. Sure, songs like "Talk," "Train Song," & "Waste" will be performed live pretty much like they are on album, but songs like "Taste," "Free," "Theme From the Bottom," & "Character Zero" have opened up into monstrous live jams that can be extremely unpredictable (see the version of "Taste" on "Slip, Stitch & Pass" or find a tape of the 35-40 minute version "Free" performed a few years ago.) The band is to be praised not only for the fact that they tried something new (a cohesive set of songs that wouldn't be "live" studio takes), but because they tried it & it worked! (And no "Hoist" doesn't qualify for the above conditions...it had some great songs, but wasn't at all cohesive.)Who can deny that the Bliss>Billy Breathes>Swept Away>Steep>Prince Caspian segue is a thing of beauty? So what if these are slow songs, or if they cover serious subject matter...that isn't a bad thing. It's just different from what most people were expecting (and thumbs up to the band for not being complacent...change is good!) I'm not saying this is what I want Phish to sound like forever more (they've even changed greatly with "Story of the Ghost"), but it is a nice document of what they were like for this particular point in time...still the best band in the world (although they were a kinder, gentler Phish.)The fact is that Phish is primarily loved as a live act, and they should be, that's what they're the best at doing. Any of their three live albums ("A Live One," "Slip, Stitch & Pass" or "Hampton Comes Alive" --the last being the best) or any live tape can't compare with actually being at a concert, so why should their studio efforts be compared to being at a concert? The answer is simple: it shouldn't. There's live Phish, taped live Phish, and studio Phish. Three very different entities all to be loved and enjoyed in different ways because they fulfill different needs for the band and/or fans."
Turned me onto the band....
Yosemite Sam | Reno-Tahoe | 02/20/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Some guy below said that people who gave this album 5 stars had probably never seen them live. Give me a break! "Billy Breathes" has been a fixture in my cd rotation since I first bought it. I finally saw the band in 1999 and, if anything, I listened to this cd even more. When I heard 'Prince Caspian' live the show could have ended right there (though I'm glad it didn't). The studio version captures the spirit of the live version, though it is shorter. Is there a better song out there? The whole cd is fun and gentle and dreamy.
People say that you should let this cd be your entre to Phish. Others say try something else. I say that everyone responds to the songs and albums in different ways and that you should sample a bit of everything. For me, this cd was a great introduction to the band. I listen to it constantly and never get bored. That's as much praise as I can give a cd!"
An overlooked masterpiece of the 1990's.
youngoptimisticmusician | Toledo, OH/ Gettysburg, PA | 11/23/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the reasons I find Phish to be such an intriguing band is because their music changed steadily, and often drastically throughout their career thus far. I came to know Phish around 2000, and ironically, the first album I bought was Billy Breathes...As I look back on Phish's albums, this one continually sticks out as the pinnacle of their work in the studio.
I've noticed that many Phish fans are drawn to perhaps their earlier work (Pre-Hoist), due to its stunning complexity, nature, and energy. However, Billy Breathes is their finest work.
Clocking at only around 47 minutes, there is succint purpose and direction, a closeness to detail, and simplicity (yet brilliance) in songwriting.
The album starts off on a high note with "Free", a pounding rush of energy that brings you up quickly, and brings you down quickly, wisely leveling off at around 4 minutes. Then they take it up another notch with "Character Zero", a song whose chorus is sheer uproarious bliss. And then we have the moving "Waste", a song anyone can identify with.
Essentially, the album meanders through a range of great, heartfelt emotions. I've found that every single moment of this album is stellar, however, I believe the album takes a true emotional and philosophical turn when the crescendo of "Bliss" enters on track 9. This beautiful intro leads into (in my opinion) the greatest track on the album, "Billy Breathes". I consider this the bands finest song of their catalog, particularly because of the second part of the song, where we begin a journey into a world that begins in indecision and uncertainty and ends in realization, revelation, and resolution.
And, after that song, we begin another trek, which begins in the beautiful "Swept away", goes into a dream in "Steep", and the dream ends in the sea of "Prince Caspian". "Prince Caspian" completes an epic journey into the soul, leaving us with the hope of something great.
Essentially, there are many ways you can look at the album. Personally, I believe it to be one of the greatest albums of all time, first off due to its breadth of emotions and brilliant songwriting. It also is an extremely flowing piece of artistic work, as each track coherently follows the other through a highly defined course. Finally, it takes an intense look at things in the world we don't often look at.
That's what Phish does best, musically and lyrically, in an abstract way, they examine the things we don't often think about. And with "Billy Breathes" they do that the best, with great concentration to their songwriting.
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND AN IMMEDIATE PURCHASE OF THIS RECORD, even if you have never heard Phish before in your life. For some, it may require a couple listens to fully begin to understand it, but once you're in, you're in, and the ride you will take will not be one worth missing.
Simply put, PURE ARTISTIC BRILLIANCE. Period."
Still the Best
David M. Juhl | Momence, IL | 07/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the Fall of 1998 a Seminary classmate was playing a CD in his car. I loved the music. I asked what the CD was. He said "Billy Breathes" by Phish.Phish? I hated "Hoist" when I heard it 4 years earlier. How can this be?So I asked to borrow his copy of "Billy". The rest is history.From start to finish this is their best record and in my top 10 all time favorite albums."Free" conjures memories of leaving a place I'd lived for a year that I didn't care for."Planes, Trucks, Buses" sounds like a Volkswagen commercial from the late 1990's."Theme from the Bottom" is pure majesty.The absolute highlight of the record is what I call the "Billy Breathes Suite". The last 15 minutes of this album MUST be taken as a whole...much like the 2nd side of "Abbey Road" by The Beatles. Though it's several songs that crossfade I see it as one whole work. The title track is perhaps the best thing the group has ever done. "Prince Caspian" is the perfect way to end the record.Someone once wrote that "Billy Breathes" is actually a concept record. I'd somewhat agree. I can't listen to just one song from it because I'd miss part of the whole. This album makes you think. And it makes you rock. It's deep, wide, and deliriously enjoyable."