I Like Trains – The Shallows
It’s tempting, when on the first listen of an eagerly-awaited album, to say that it’s the best thing a band have done. This sort of knee-jerk reaction works both ways: it can either hold up upon further listens; or it can prove to be misguided. I’ve had this album for five weeks now, and even though I reacted in the same way when my first listen finished back in late March, I can say with certainly that ‘The Shallows’ definitely is the best thing I Like Trains have done so far.
The Leeds band deal with big questions on their albums, wrapping them in impressive concepts, no matter what way they choose to approach them musically. Having started as a post-rock band with the impressive ‘Progress-Reform’, before building on their sound with ‘Elegies to Lessons Learnt’, the band moved in a more immediate direction with ‘He Who Saw the Deep’ two years ago. There’s been another shift in sound for their third outing, and, rather appropriately for an album dealing with humanity’s love-hate relationship with technology, it’s their most electronic offering yet, moving further away from their old post-rock sound towards something that is entirely their own.
Certain things haven’t changed, however, and the album begins with these lines: ‘I will be taking care of business / I’ll run it all into the ground / Pay my debts and walk away from it / Careless hearts and their calloused hands will count the difference out.’ Bleak? Yes, of course. In their outlook, the band haven’t changed a jot, and this is why ‘The Shallows’ can be an unsettling listen at times; perhaps even more so than their previous work. In a similar way, it’s probably the most cohesive album they’ve released, both in terms of sound and scope. Recurring lyrical fragments and even related musical ideas crop up throughout the album, and there are a number of well-done segues here and there too.
The electronics add a new dimension to their sound; the pulsing synth that underpins the taut math-rock of lead single ‘Mnemosyne’ gives it some extra punch, over which David Martin’s distinctive vocals deliver a thought-provoking lyric on the nature of memory and how that is being affected by the digital age. The album is perfectly balanced between (relatively) uptempo songs and more contemplative ones; and the album highlight ‘Reykjavik’ falls into the latter category, a perfect blend of the band’s more progressive tendencies and the ethereal post-rock for which they first garnered attention that results in one of the best songs of their entire catalogue.
‘The Shallows’ is an album that is given plenty of space to breathe, its multi-layered songs brought to life by the quite-frankly-fantastic production, which is courtesy of the talented Richard Formby, who’s been behind the sound of Wild Beasts’s last two albums. He certainly has a reputation, and so too do I Like Trains themselves; one that they’ve been trying to shake off. They were tagged as downbeat gloom-rock merchants by some when ‘Elegies…’ landed, but, for better or worse, Martin’s vocals are the only thing that have remained constant. Everything else has changed considerably. Their confidence has grown and their adventurous spirit has taken full flight. Contrary to its title, this is a work of real depth, the sound of a band striking out into previously-uncharted waters – one of the most compelling albums of the year.
The Shallows is released on Monday via I Like Records; pre-orders get an instant-grat download of the full album, and Mnemosyne is available to stream via Soundcloud.
Posted by Gareth O’Malley
Tags: 2012, Gareth O'Malley, I Like Trains, music, Review, The Shallows