[sic] Magazine

I Like Trains – He Who Saw The Deep

On the Pledge Music page for their latest album, I Like Trains made the following statement: “I Like Trains are no longer in mourning. Though they still remember the past, gone are the black threads which adorned their funeral waltz along with songs of tragedy, despair, insanity and loss. Whilst the Leeds quartet made their name charting history’s forgotten heroes and injustices, there is only so long you can look backwards before you have to start looking to the future.

The future, it would seem, is a little brighter than the past, at least in places, and (unsurprisingly, I suppose) a little bit more difficult to get a solid grasp on, and perhaps therefore has less capacity to be easily made distinctive. The danger, also, to reinvention, is that despite how long something has existed in its previous incarnation, the new one inevitably must have a fledgling state.

I Like Trains have countered that somewhat by not only letting a year pass since the release of the first single from He Who Saw the Deep (‘Sea of Regrets’, self-released back in October 2009), but by doing what they do best and ultimately maintaining a fairly gloomy outlook on proceedings.

It is, then, a new direction, but one that is very much on familiar ground – a point which I Like Trains themselves seem to concede with the track ‘Progress Is A Snake’. Not only does it contain the fairly pointed line ‘a snake can shed its skin but never change’, but it quite fittingly has the most in common with previous ILT work. Lyrically and thematically, the tales being told have more than enough in common with those heard on Progress Reform and Elegies to Lessons Learnt to ensure that He Who Saw the Deep is never completely out of its depth in comparison.

Time, and how much is left, would be one of the more prevalent themes. For example, take the rather abrupt ending for ‘A Father’s Son’ once the last words have been spoken (‘we escape when our time is up‘) and the persistent ticking clock percussion on ‘Hope Is Not Enough’. The impression is that no matter which direction you look, the odds against us may at times be fought against, but they are ultimately insurmountable.

While on previous outings there were moments of indignation, outrage or sheer grief expressed at the unchangeable, here and in the future, where until they’ve come to pass the outcome of events are largely unknown, there seems to be an overall resignation to a doomed fate. I suppose when one looks to the future, the only certainty is ‘the end’, and there is a level of comfort in being resolute to that certainty.

The outlook isn’t all bleak, though. The biggest shift in perspective here is done stylistically, and it’s where most of the light to either counter or accentuate the shade comes from. To match that shift, a lighter approach has also been taken with the vocals, and while David Martin ‘s gothic baritone well suited the dramatic temperament of previous work, here in full force it would likely have been domineering.

Musically, underlying what is still quite distinctly I Like Trains’ brand of melancholic post-rock are some subtle touches that fall somewhere between the realm of The Cure ‘s Disintegration and Wish. Whereas those two albums are rather at odds with one another, at the very least in terms of their general mood, the middle ground claimed by ILT fits He Who Saw The Deep quite comfortably. The deeply morose, somber tones of previous work have been scaled back and emerging from the darkness are some lighter, prettier flourishes that do well to signify their new beginning and shift in perspective; perhaps even an acknowledgment that all things – even desolation – contain their own unique beauty.

If you’re a die-hard fan of the ‘Trains at their intensely gloomiest and would rather they stay right there thank you, it could be that He Who Saw The Deep will come across as sounding somewhat diluted in comparison. With its overall air of despondency, it’s at least fair to say there’s potential for it to be interpreted as a little lacklustre by those who like melancholy and melodrama to go hand in hand. I see it, however, as an undertaking to move out from the shadows cast by their own past, and therefore a welcome step forward, if but one that by virtue of treading new ground is slightly unsure of its footing. For those who’d like to follow that step to where it becomes steadfast, I believe the possibility for much greater reward is imminent.

~He Who Saw The Deep is the first release on the band’s own ILR imprint and sees general release on the 25th October 2010, with shipping taking place on the 18th.~