The Psych Ward–Junta by Phish
The Psych Ward–Junta by Phish
Junta is the eccentric debut album by Vermont-based quartet Phish. Recorded and originally released in 1988 on cassette, it captures the band’s early era when their live performances were largely confined to New England’s collegiate crowds, preceding their prolific and seemingly endless concert tours. After discovering Phish in 1993, I immediately became a strident fan, extensively attending their concerts and incorporating their songs into my college band’s repertoire.
Junta begins humorously with an implausible bestial love triangle between the titular protagonist – a literal weasel named “Fee,” a gospel singer, and a rival chimpanzee. This is all perfectly normal, setting the album’s tone with a slick lounge-lizard jazz progression and outlandish lyrics, which are commonplace throughout.
The sonic rollercoaster “You Enjoy Myself” patiently builds on intertwining lines by guitarist Trey Anastasio, keyboardist/organist Page McConnell, and bassist Mike Gordon. Alternating between tense minor themes and effervescent peaks by Anastasio and McConnell, “Y.E.M.” is described in greater detail in this concert review, along with the carnivalesque “Esther.”
“Golgi Apparatus” is a geeky rocker borne of chemistry class boredom, driven by Jon Fishman’s vivacious drumming and “ticket stub in your hand” fan-favorite joyous chorus. “Foam” is supplanted by Gordon’s funky plucking and a Latin-tinged progression that plummets with the lyrics “falling into a deep well.” “Dinner and a Movie” teases reggae before genre-smashing barriers between punk and jazz in a crazed mash-up.
The lengthy, tightly-arranged compositions “The Divided Sky” and “David Bowie” are predominantly instrumental, excepting their refrains. The harmonious foursome proclaims “Divided sky, the wind blows high” before exploring a plaintive motif that climaxes with Anastasio’s sublime guitar theatrics to a concluding crescendo. The ballsy shredder “Bowie” – not a tribute to the singer nor cited UB40 – is a frenetic prog-rock sonata, with several movements fraught with musical tension.
“Fluffhead-> Fluff’s Travels” describes a deranged drifter down on his luck after excessively consuming hallucinogens. Delving into a protracted jam that dances like fireflies dodging raindrops to a glorious reprise, the interjected lyrics include the ominous warning “soon your luscious honey sugar mellifluous life is gonna end.”
The concluding studio track, “Contact”, is an amorous ode to the road, as bassist Gordon avows his automotive affection to a bossa nova beat. Of the three live bonus tracks, “Icculus” stands out as facetious worship to the illustrious author of the Helping Phriendly Book.
Steeped in ambitious, exploratory progressions and absurd non-conformity, Junta remains Phish’s most psychedelic studio release. Below the typically shallow lyrical surface lies a vast ocean of musical depth that is startling and confounding.
Related: The Top 100 Neo-Psychedelic Albums