I listened to the five tracks that comprise Phantom on the Horizon over 40 times (some tracks more than others) during the process of reviewing the Fall of Troy’s new albumfor the dead-tree version of City Paper. As a result, I can sort of hum at least one guitar riff, which you can listen to below (and nobody hums to prog unless that prog is Rush).
But I’m not sure if listening to an album as many times as I did is good for the review process. Stuff that I didn’t like the first time around grew on me, though that fact didn’t make it into my review (the 400-word limit doesn’t leave much room for a discussion of personal listening habits). On the other hand, aspects that stood out at first—red-hot guitar solos and great screaming come to mind—gradually faded as I grasped the significance of the album as a complete composition. Compared to other media for criticism, it’s easy and—taking a random sample from the music critics I know personally—commonplace for us to fall for the music we’re supposed to be reviewing skeptically. (Why is it that good film critics seldom have this problem?)
However, I can think of some great albums (Say Anything’s …Is a Real Boy) and great bands (Radiohead) that I had to listen to over and over again before I saw what was so great about them.
For your listening pleasure, a few seconds of “A Strange Conversation,” the second “chapter” on FoT’s Phantom on the Horizon:
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And here’s a snippet from the review (or you can just read the whole thing):
“[I]t’s a worthwhile listen for anyone looking to dip a toe a into contemporary mainstream prog scene led by Coheed and Cambria, blending screamo vocals and mathcore rhythms with punk antics and an art-school sensibility. That’s a lot to pack into a tune, and Fall of Troy has recorded plenty of inaccessible or just plain noisy music in the past. (“Whacko Jacko Steals the Elephant Man’s Bones,” from 2005’s Doppleganger, oscillates between cacophonous technical sections and tuneless, distorted interludes.)”
I want to clarify that I don’t think Coheed (who I used as a gold standard of sorts) is mainstream, or that there’s any such thing as “mainstream prog,” but that within prog you can find accessible and less-accessible music (big, resounding “duh”). Coheed and Cambria, the Fall of Troy, and—to a lesser extent—the Mars Volta are easier listening than Dream Theater and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Behold…The Arctopus—that’s what earned FoT and Coheed the mainstream tag.
I still haven’t decided if Phantom will make my top-10 list. I’d like to include at least one experimental/prog act, and I’m currently considering Idiot Pilot’s reissued EP Heart is Long—even though it falls entirely on the experimental side.
Would anybody care to plug a 2008 prog album?