Ghosts of Future Present
I Like Trains – The Shallows (ilikerecords)
May 7, 2012
The last thing you would expect to hear beginning an I Like Trains album is an '80s synth keyboard riff, but this is what you're presented with at the onset of opener 'Beacons' before Dave Martin’s familiar vocal delivery takes over amidst a plethora of electronic sounds. Introducing the album’s lyrical theme of a strongly thought out dystopia, it’s quite an opening statement.
Standing at only nine tracks long, the path that the band’s third full length album chooses to take is one of a distinctly short, sharp message. While its tone is typically downbeat for the most part, it betrays the occasional moment of softness. The effect of producer Richard Formby, best known for his work on Wild Beasts' Two Dancers and Smother, is clearly seen in places. New ideas are clearly heard first of all on 'Mnemosyne', which combines stripped down electric guitar picking with reverb-heavy chords that hark back to the band’s earliest work.
The mid-section duo of 'Water/Sand' and 'The Hive' offer something with a distinctively softer approach. Almost soothing backing vocals run through the chorus of the former, while the lyrical themes of places left behind and the journeys in between them lead the latter into a nostalgia evoking climax. On the contrary, 'The Turning of The Bones' takes you back into a mechanical world, the oppression of which can only be overcome by decadence.
The end section keeps the listener thoroughly engaged. 'Reykjavík' harks back to previous material in terms of the melodic wrap-around the guitar work provides, while Martin tells a poignant tale of misfortune. 'We Used to Talk' takes a minimalist approach, with verses that sound poised on a knife-edge until an equally sparse guitar line picks up the volume. Closer 'In Tongues' conjures images of a travel sequence at the end of a film noir until it cuts totally unexpectedly and jolts the listener into reflecting on a thoroughly absorbing listen, meticulously put together, and containing a great deal to mull over.
words: Steve Welch