Much like their forefathers The Grateful Dead, Phish's legacy will always be their monumental live shows - even to the point where if someone were to cue up their music at a party or BBQ, it'll more likely be a live recording than a studio album.
Yet in 1996 Phish released Billy Breathes, arguably their finest hour in the studio, and the album proved their worth as recording artists in addition to a massively popular live act. Largely due to their collaboration with producer Steve Lillywhite, the band trimmed the fat and kept the songs focused and concise, with the emphasis on quality songwriting rather than meandering jams.
Joy finds Phish (back from a lengthy hiatus) reunited with Lillywhite, and while the result isn't as immediately remarkable as their previous collaboration, it's certainly the band's best album since. There's plenty of flavors throughout, from the pop-rock opener "Backwards Down the Number Line" to the bluesy rocker "Kill Devil Falls" and the reggae-pop of "Sugar Shack", and everything is pleasantly melodic enough to hook even those who can care less about three-minute-long guitar solos. Perhaps most importantly, everything here has a point; even the 13-minute behemoth "Time Turns Elastic" (by far the longest track here) plays more like a tightly arranged prog suite than a sprawling jam session.
While hardcore Phish-heads may get more excited about catching an upcoming concert than a new batch of studio songs, it's admirable that, after 25 years together, the band is still releasing material capable of winning over new fans.