It seems we’ve all of a sudden come across a little pocket of “Bonnaroo vibes” even in this pandemic-plagued season, with two members of Phish, singer/guitarist Trey Anastacio and bassist Mike Gordon, each issuing new projects in the past 30 days. With really nothing terrible standing out about the former, I’ve chosen to focus on the second of those two offerings for the primary reason of it, ironically, being more “instrumental.” It’s widely been internalized that Anastacio leans toward the “poppy” on his solo material, whereas I believe he did indeed score a minor radio hit in ’05 with “Shine,” such a development probably being his default objective when he cuts his own releases. Both as a general rule and within this particular folk-rock swatch, Gordon and Kottke make no such ambition (despite their covering of “Eight Miles High” on this project which ends up ballooning out and expanding to something significantly more instrumentally verbose, anyway, and their tickling take on Prince’s “Alphabet St.”), and even on their ’02 project Clone, that little nugget of classic folk “I am a Lonesome Fugitive” seemed so stoned and independent as to sort of transcendently stand above radio and convention.
The tone is set with exemplary focus and discipline within this LP on “Flat Top,” on which Gordon, in fitting form seeing he is the student here (Kottke’s first album came out in 1969), languishes in the back of the mix with an ambient, beat-keeping bass technique, short of anything virtuosic. He takes the fore as the secondary songwriter on a couple of tracks, the corny but workable “I am Random” and “How Many People Are You,” each of which mosies along in gentle, stoned funk-rock form, positioning the music better as light-hearted work or radio fare than the sort of epic cataclysm you encounter on certain long-winded live Phish expeditions.
Without question, it’s Kottke, whose incredible career longevity is highlighted above, who gears the STYLE of this album. It’s almost effortless the way he uses acoustic guitar plucking to stretch the “Eight Miles High” cover and the “Ants” instrumental into something both musically expansive and also approachable, thereby fusing two otherwise elusive strands of artistry into one distinct, rewarding stew. Kottke and Gordon are the only two individuals credited with being “Personnel” on this album, according to Wikipedia, and each assumes part of the “production” module. With this being the case, I think, this album, much like the perhaps increasingly psychedelic Clone, presents itself as authentic both in aesthetic and anatomy, manifesting itself as music that can really clear your head of all things ambitious and conventional.