Songs swell from nothing to everything, drums pound slowly and miserably, and guitars...
James Young 2007
Those who have already witnessed iLiKETRAiNS’ ‘library rock’ schtick - either on stage, where they dress in rail worker costumes and project images of train stock onto the walls, or through their limited edition single releases and lauded Progress Reform anthology - will know pretty much what to expect from Elegies To Lessons Learnt.
The band’s debut proper continues along the same (ahem) track; that is, slow, majestic songs that draw lyrical inspiration from history and hagiography, and that wallow in an inconsolable melancholy while simultaneously attaining strange, euphoric peaks.
Masterminded by Ken Thomas, the Brit producer behind Sigur Ros, Elegies…shares some common ground with the music of their Icelandic cousins. Songs swell from nothing to everything, drums pound slowly and miserably, and guitars thrum and shimmer in a haze of dreary nostalgia.
But where Sigur Ros generally favour lyrical abstraction, one of the formidable aspects of iLiKETRAiNS is their subject matter. In the past they’ve sung about Scott and his Antarctic expedition, chess champion Bobby Fischer and the railway reforms of the 1930s. On Elegies…their history lessons continue, matched perfectly to their morose soundtracks and brimming backdrops.
The key trope on Elegies…is how humanity consistently fails to learn from its mistakes.
Thus “25 Sins” invokes the Great Fire of London; ”The Deception” tells of an ill-fated yachtsman; “Spencer Perceval” focuses on the assassinated British prime minister of the same name; and “We Go Hunting” recalls the Salem Witchhunt Trials. Other themes include partition, plague and spiraling descents into insanity.
If none of that sounds like a pretty picnic in the park - it isn’t. iLiKETRAiNS are many things, but they’re not happy-go-lucky. The stories are delivered in the Lou Reed-esque baritone of frontman, David Martin, who connects the songs into one long, cyclical tale of human folly, frailty, and failure.
But while you’re not going to pop Elegies… on at your best mate’s birthday party, or drop one of their records down at the local disco, you’ll be hard pressed to find much around today that matches the band’s inherent majesty, ambitious scope and zeitgeist-capturing, quasi-literary, historically-informed perspective.