Trojan Horse – self-titled

Trojan Horse coverHey, remember when bands weren’t afraid to be English? And not everything was a 2nd, 3rd or further-generation copy of something American?

Although inflammatory statements like that are grossly inaccurate – if you can’t find such music you’re not trying hard enough – there are two reasons I elected to go ahead and write it. The first is that there is a grain of truth there, however small. The second is that Trojan Horse are a defiantly unique band and also an immediately, obviously British outfit.

Prog rock was always a love affair of the British: sure, the Canadians had Rush, the Germans had krautrock, and the Americans can lay claim to some of the earliest work in the genre with The United States of America*. But it was Britain that produced the most famous names of the genre**: King Crimson, Yes, Van der Graaf Generator, Pink Floyd, Genesis… the list goes on. And on. And on. For about eighteen minutes, usually, possibly with a lot of masturbation along the way***.

It’s in this tradition, in part, that Trojan Horse are walking. Deliberately and curiously ambling along, pushing themselves and their listeners in directions that at times challenge, and at times provoke, and at times simply encourage. But there’s no sense of imitation here – how boring and pointless it would be to produce a prog rock record that was content to simply imitate. It’s the playful exploration and ambition regarding structure and composition that Trojan Horse have taken from the prog tradition; their music is just at home drawing on the rich traditions of rock, punk and metal that have developed since the heyday of prog. This isn’t a backwards-looking record. Nor is it particularly forwards-looking, true, but it’s a distinct album and very much of its time.

The band themselves describe themselves as “pronk” here and there, which says to me that they’re somewhat immersed in the London-based Org Records scene – one of the few moderately well-known labels/zines still pushing weird music into willing ears. Of course, the term “pronk” also indicates a sense of humour – it’s a fundamentally absurd word and arguably oxymoronic – which happily also emerges in the songs on this self-titled record. You can argue the toss about how successful such humour is: ‘Black Russian’, for example, is probably the most elaborate song I’ve ever heard about having ‘just one more’: “Why can’t you stay? Think you should stay. Right there. / Uh uh uh uh! [in the negative, shake head] / Why. Don’t. You. Stay. Now. That. You. Are. Here.” Or there’s ‘Bicycle Jam’, a meandering and directionless song in which the only easily comprehensible line is “As one walks these streets / It is necessary to carry a stout stick to keep away the urchins.” I mentioned the song being directionless: I even wonder if the song is a sort of meta-level joke given that, you know, you ride a bike to get somewhere, and this song is about bikes, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Like I said, you can argue the toss about how successful this is.

But there’s engagement with serious themes here too. Trojan Horse hail from Manchester and numerous songs on this record keenly engage with its history as an industrial city and its traditions of working class radicalism. ‘Discipling the Reserve Army’ tells part of this story by focusing on a man named Harold Banks, an industrialist, juxtaposing the “modern way, nice and straight” of industrialisation (at the expense of his workforce, of course) with his perversion, the desperate ends to which his business practices drive onetime employees and his condemnation of the same as a respected member of the community. The inherent hypocrisy of capital. This sounds like quite a bit for one song to explore and I admit I’m filling in the blanks; my interpretation may not be “right” but it fits, so here we are.

In case it’s not yet obvious I like this album: it fuses prog rock with more modern and immediate strands of rock music with skill and understanding of what it’s fusing together – i.e. what those respective strengths are and how to encourage them to complement one another – and doesn’t shy away from integrating this musical experimentation with lyrics that are determinedly unpopulist (okay, aside from that one song that’s nominally about getting drunk). It’s untidy and clever and organic and special and not always consistent but what it is, is worth your time. So give it that.

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* Who, I admit, I only just heard of when checking Wikipedia to confirm my theory. We’re all about full disclosure here at Nostalgia For Infinity, folks.

** Genre is an awkward term to use when talking about something as determinedly non-generic as prog rock, I know… work with me there. I use the word “tradition” too much already.

*** I have a love/hate relationship with prog rock. When I was 16 someone bought me a copy of Yes’s Close to the Edge as a gift. To this day I regard it as an act of cruelty****.

**** I’m joking, Yes fans!

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