Some of those prone to facile analogies have compared this latter-day power trio led by guitarist Dave Rick (an early member of Yo La Tengo and a frequent participant in Bongwater and B.A.L.L. before joining King Missile fulltime in 1990) to Hüsker Dü and the Minutemen, but New York’s Phantom Tollbooth was more like a thrash-inflected version of Fred Frith’s Massacre than anything else. (In all fairness, the inclusion of an original song entitled “Flip Your Wig” on Phantom Tollbooth didn’t help matters.) Various art-rock influences — quick tempo shifts, the occasional jazzy swing and the use of noise as a genuine musical element (rather than a cheap way to telegraph rage or intensity) — gave these guys away.
That said, it must be added that Tollbooth’s addition of vocals to its heady and complex clamor wasn’t always the greatest thing for the music. One-Way Conversation and Power Toy (which has a pretty funny version of Heart’s “Barracuda” and two bonus tracks on CD) contain the band’s best, most focused work, a striking synthesis of the art-rock that so clearly influenced its song structures and the frenzied attack of hardcore.