"He slipped off the edge.....
...
...
and silence, contagious in moments like these
consumed me, and strengthened my will to appease
the passion that sparked me one terrible night
and shocked and persuaded my soul to alight."

--Phish, from Rift


Rift is the title of Phish's 1993 studio album, and it is regarded as one of their best studio albums, if not the best. Unlike their earlier efforts, Junta, Lawn Boy, and A Picture of Nectar, Rift keeps an even keel throughout the album instead of switching abruptly between Phish's multiple styles. When there are transitions, they're gradual, and some of the songs seem to melt together--even where Phish hasn't made the conscious effort to tie them together, as they do with Fast Enough for You->Lengthwise->Maze.

The opening (and title) track belies the album's apparent tranquility, and sets the stage for the neurotic, self-aware undercurrents in even their most peaceful songs on the album. Rift sets up the album with imagery of a Jacob's Ladder-influenced dream struggle against an otherworldy adversary, overlooking... a Rift (the relationship-ending cliche is there if you want to see it; feel free to assume the Rift exists on many levels). Opening in an urgent four-part harmony that mimics the overtones of a train whistle, with Jon Fishman's excellent brush work on the drums sounding like the rustle and thunder of a passing freight train's wheels (or a panicked dream-runner's footsteps down an endless hall), the song can be interpreted as the beginning of a long dream, or an epiphany that finally leads the dreamer into the waking world. Either way, the story of the album uses Rift as its jumping off point, ending with a scream of--depending on how you look at it--revelation and awakening in sweaty sheets, or falling into the Rift in the dream, eyes and mouth open and screaming.

The album has love songs, but all of them wear uneasy sad cloaks, and exist with a dim paranoia, a not-quite-reality. The panic of being "trapped" in a relationship surfaces in Maze--or is the singer dreaming again? A rejected gift destroys the giver in Sparkle--or is the singer still dreaming? All the phases of relationships are examined. The album also has a healthy dose of pure nightmare paranoia, in songs like My Friend, My Friend (He's got a knife!), It's Ice, and others. Again and again, the listener has to wonder: is love a dream, or is the fear of love a dream? And whichever is the dream--passion or loneliness--is it more accurate to call it a nightmare? Will everything really be Silent in the Morning?

On a lyrical level, Rift will challenge anyone who enjoys reading two or three layers into their literature; I'm imagining stoned English professors here, a la Wonder Boys. On a songwriting level, the songs individually and as an album maintain the flow of a concrete work, to the point where it's hard to imagine any of the songs existing on any other album, or without any of the others. And of course, as all of the phans have come to expect, on an instrumental level, all four members of Phish play their instruments so well, so cleanly, and with such awareness of each other, that instead of waiting through their long instrumentals, you'll find yourself waiting for more of them. On a much simpler level, you can put this album on repeat all and let it go--focus as much or as little as you choose on the intricacies, and the album is still there, and still great music. Given Phish's reputation for noodling and irritating non-fans with experimental jams, this may be their most coherent and professional album ever, and their most accessible to new listeners.

  1. Rift
  2. Fast Enough for You
  3. Lengthwise ->
  4. Maze
  5. Sparkle
  6. Horn
  7. The Wedge
  8. My Friend, My Friend
  9. Weigh
  10. All Things Reconsidered
  11. Mound
  12. It's Ice
  13. Lengthwise (reprise) ->
  14. The Horse ->
  15. Silent in the Morning

The "->" symbol represents tracks whose music overlaps significantly. The Horse is considered an introduction to Silent in the Morning.


previous album / next album
A Picture of Nectar-=*{Rift}*=-Hoist


An interesting side note, before I get to the lyrics to the title track, Rift, which also belongs here: the cover art is an amazingly detailed drawing in hues of blue, indigo, and black, of a man tossing and turning in a half empty bed. If you search the cover, you will find every track on the album represtented pictorially... except The Horse. Phish's next album, Hoist, features a Horse slung from a hoist in Day Glo yellows, oranges, and pinks on its cover--and the album has nothing to do with a horse. This can't be a coincidence.


Rift, the song:

Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell, both tenors with solid dramatic baritone ranges, trade off the lyrics of this song while playing guitar and keyboards, respectively; Trey takes the even lines, Page the odd ones, but the whole group sings a minor 4-part chord on the first two words of each verse, resolving it to a major chord on the word "much" the 2nd time through the 2nd verse. Until the chord resolves, it is eerily reminiscent of the overtones in a train whistle. Mike Gordon's bass playing is talented and precise, as always, and Jon Fishman's drumming, especially his brushwork and his forays off onto the woodblock and cowbell during the jams really gives this song its harried panicky tempo.

Last night--in the moments my thoughts were adrift,
while coasting a terrace, approaching a rift
(through which I could spy several glimpses beneath
of the darkness the light from above could not reach)--
I spied wings of Reason herself taking flight,
and upon yonder precipice saw her alight,
and glare back at me one last look of dismay,
as if she were the last one she thought I'd betray.

The dreamer, with more nested clauses than a block of Lisp code, identifies the scene: he's dreaming of a terrace overlooking a rift. Reason, here personified as a female with wings (perhaps an angel), descends and lands nearby, glaring as though he had wronged her. In the context of the album, this may be Reason, but it may also be a stand-in for the ever-present female in all of the album's songs.

"So much the better," I said to myself,
and drawing quite close to the top of the shelf,
I struggled with Destiny up on the ledge,
and gasped when, defeated, he slipped off the edge,
and silence, contagious in moments like these,
consumed me, and strengthened my will to appease
the passion that sparked me one terrible night,
and shocked and persuaded my soul to ignite.

Now, unfazed by Reason's accusatory look, the dreamer wrestles with Destiny--a male--and manages to throw him into the precipice. The parallel with Jacob's Ladder is an obvious one, but the male-female dynamic suggests the fight is to win the heart of Reason. The sudden silence "strengthened (his) will to appease the passion" he feels, but it is unclear if the silence or the passion is what "shocked and persuaded (his) soul to ignite." Catharsis is clear--the source is not. Has he betrayed Reason? Has he defeated his Destiny? The theme is defiance and transcendence, with powerful emotions.


{At this point, the song enters what I call the "flying dream jam," culminating in a 4-part vocal key change during the held word "much" in the next verse. This verse is lyrically identical to the 2nd, but is played in a different, more urgent key.}

"So mu-u-u-u-u-uch... the better," I said to myself,
and drawing quite close to the top of the shelf,
I struggled with Destiny up on the ledge,
and gasped when, defeated, he slipped off the edge....
...
{8 seconds of silence}
...
...and silence, contagious in moments like these,
consumed me, and strengthened my will to appease
the passion that sparked me one terrible night,
and shocked and persuaded my soul to ignite.

--and shocked and persuaded my soul to ignite--
(and shocked and persuaded my soul to ignite)
--and shocked and persuaded my soul to ignite--
(and shocked and persuaded my soul to ignite)
And shocked and persuaded my soul to ignite--
Aah, Aaaah, Aaaaah: AaaaaaAAAAAAAAH!

The lyrics contained herein are © Phish, 1993, and are used here in good faith; this writeup has been CST Approved.
...and as a completely useless bit of trivia, I would like to point out that these lyrics can be sung to the tune of Away in a Manger, and vice versa.

Rift (?), obs.

p. p. of Rive.

Spenser.

 

© Webster 1913.


Rift, n. [Written also reft.] [Dan. rift, fr. rieve to rend. See Rive.]

1.

An opening made by riving or splitting; a cleft; a fissure.

Spenser.

2.

A shallow place in a stream; a ford.

 

© Webster 1913.


Rift, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Rifted; p. pr. & vb. n. Rifting.]

To cleave; to rive; to split; as, to rift an oak or a rock; to rift the clouds.

Longfellow.

To dwell these rifted rocks between. Wordsworth.

 

© Webster 1913.


Rift, v. i.

1.

To burst open; to split.

Shak.

Timber . . . not apt to rif with ordnance. Bacon.

2.

To belch.

[Prov. Eng. & Scot.]

 

© Webster 1913.

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