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“Dolby’s Rupees: Phish – ‘Dirt'”

“Dirt” by Phish is not, by any stretch, a perfect song. In fact, it’s got this guitar intro that’s so defiantly, fiercely conventional, calling more to mind Incubus’ “Drive” than any artistic construction which would shoulder up with Frank Zappa or Bela Fleck, two of Trey Anastasio’s likely idols, that for a while I hated it, preferring other classics on Farmhouse like “Back on the Train” and “Piper.”
And just look at those lyrics, but to ink by band “lyricist” Tom Marshall: “I’d like to live beneath the dirt / A tiny space to move and breathe / Is all that I would ever need”. It’s not exactly the pump-up stuff of MTV’s summer beach parties (sorry to furnish a relic of a bygone era there, but we are talking about 2000’s album Farmhouse), although “Heavy Things” from this album is, rightfully, the band’s biggest single to date.
All of this and, for the better part of my music listening days, I’ve definitely held it at arm’s length, so to speak.
2000 also brought us arguably a creative peak from another cult favorite, Pearl Jam. Their album that year, Binaural, named after the recording method of utilizing two strategically placed microphones in the studio, along with Phish’s Farmhouse, seemed to sum up the entire 1990s with a special sort of melancholy and purpose, where, within pluralistic songwriting among group members, the music itself was left sovereign, given texture and full format for sharing our griefs and joys. Each band had hinted before at the career-defining statement they’d make this year: Pearl Jam’s Yield, with its boisterous, punky opener and then slight scale-back for track two, opens in almost the exact way Binaural does, and Phish’s Billy Breathes as many know is a classic document of folk-pop as fit for tavern juke boxes as it is for late-night intimacies. Both albums have songs full of undulating texture and lithe song structure.
If I had to find a comparison point on Binaural for “Dirt” it would be probably “Of the Girl,” where similarly, with almost ambient rudiments, the song takes off into celestial, trippy territory, the musical statements as undeniable as they are simple and hypnotic. Indeed, “Dirt,” after an almost insurmountably simple beginning, takes off and really starts to BREATHE in its second half with a wistful and beautiful guitar statement repeated copiously, with light wah-wah pedal, where the riff is boiled down to its core. At other points, guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio unleashes these wild but impeccably plotted solo arpeggios, each corresponding to one unique and beautifully juxtaposed chord, all over the incessant mantra “Shout your name into the wind”. The idea is that the protagonist in the song is removed from the world: he’s away from distraction and things that will change him, with the will solely to continue to enjoy this hypnotic music he feels within him.

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