Reflecting On: Acceptance – Phantoms

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During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

“She’s a liar / It comes to this / All we had till now is gone / And I’m the other / Piece to this”

With those eerily unsettling opening words over a simple keyboard line, Jason Vena introduced us to one of the most heralded, intriguing, enigmatic releases in the history of the scene. Aptly titled, Phantoms hung hauntingly alone for ten long years, serving as a lingering reminder of what could have been.

It’s true: Acceptance struck gold in 2005 and crafted a masterpiece with their only studio album. However, part of what has added to the mystique over the years is the idea that there was so much ground left uncovered. By disbanding one short year after the album’s release, the Seattle rock act left a lot on the table and created one of the biggest “what ifs?” in recent rock history.

Phantoms’ acclaim has grown through the years, contrary to logic. Although the album went largely unnoticed at the time of its release, it has gained a furious following over the past decade. Maybe it’s the album’s seemingly timeless accessibility; maybe it’s the intoxicating vocal delivery of Vena; maybe it’s the proverbial hype train; maybe it’s something else completely.

Part of the allure of Phantoms is that it defies classification. It’s too neat to be punk, too edgy to be pop, too contained to be emo. It’s a rock record that goes down easy, but doesn’t pull any emotional punches. It’s well rounded and complete. From the opening notes of “Take Cover” to the triumphant finish of “Glory/Us”, Phantoms demands your attention. There is no filler.

Christian McAlhaney and Kaylan Cloud’s guitar riffs on songs like “So Contagious” and “This Conversation is Over” sound just as full of fire as they did all those years ago. Vena’s slick choruses on “Over You” and “In the Cold” are still just as perfect as they were the first time we heard them. In its seeming timelessness, Phantoms is the album you wish your favorite band would write.

As a whole, Phantoms isn’t about a girl – but it could be. It’s not about a faith journey – but it could be. It’s not a coming-of-age story of finding yourself – but it could be. You get the point. Phantoms has the unique ability shared by so many great albums to speak to listeners across an array of backgrounds and circumstances.

For years, we assumed that this was the final collection of songs we would ever receive from Acceptance. The band walked away in frustration after their major label experience left them cold and disappointed; each member going their own direction. Any hint of a reunion lived only in fans’ minds. Even when Anberlin disbanded last year, freeing McAlhaney to potentially reunite the band, it seemed implausible.

Yet here we are, a decade removed, and the official return of Acceptance is upon us. Not only is the band together for a batch of reunion dates, they’re already working on new songs. We asked for this. We’re about to find out if we really wanted it.

It’s hard to top something held in such high esteem as Phantoms is, even for a collection of musicians as talented as those in Acceptance. There’s something about time and place that heighten the feelings of nostalgia and keep us longing for the days “back when.” We write these ten-year reflections, in part, because we still love these records. But we also write them because we distinctly remember the way they made us feel when we first heard them.

Perhaps it’s likely that whatever new music comes will not satiate our expectations. How could it? Even if Acceptance fails to capture the magic that made Phantoms such a treasure, we would do well to remember how lucky we are to have this opportunity at all.

I, for one, am happy to pay good money to hear Jason Vena sing again, no matter the outcome. If for even a split second I’m taken back to the way I felt when I first heard those opening moments of “Take Cover”, the experience will be more than worth it. Acceptance doesn’t need to write Phantoms again. Let’s just enjoy whatever comes while still holding dear what we already have. This isn’t a second chance – it’s icing on an already delicious cake.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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