So after releasing a tea and a DVD with some interesting live sessions, what’s a band to do? Well, in the case of I Like Trains, it’s building a weather machine and hooking it to a couple of PAs and wreak havoc on Spring.
No, I’m not joking. Notice this spell of drenching rains we’re having? I’m pretty sure these guys are manipulating the weather because The Shallows feels like a long afternoon rain. Not a dreary rain nor a particularly cold one. Not even rain on a day you were planning to do something important (like going out with a special someone or catching pirates in the Lake District), but rain on one of those days where introspection is the name of the mental doodling that drags you away from your day to day duties and makes you think of whatever is playing hide and seek in your axons and dendrites.
‘Beacons’ is like the first droplets. Thick, rarefying the atmosphere, getting that “wet soil” smell and proving to be a harbinger of things to come. Are they pleasant things? Life isn’t all pleasantries. Love the slightly retro sounds in it, a bit like the ones from Commodore 64 games, melting just right with the organics sounds provided by the band.
All the videos for He who saw the deep were ocean/water related. This album still feels water related, with the sounds being as expansive as the overcast skies in the Northern shores of Ol’ Blighty. ‘The Shallows’ certainly has an encompassing atmosphere that’s both delightful and frightening, with that deep baritone voice of David Martin being like a soothing scream, something that should not be, but it’s there, in plain sight. Never understood the criticisms towards this vocal delivery, as it’s sort of what Lambchop does (only less jazzier and, well, more English – the good Earl Grey is the seal of guarantee).
Lyrical work is great as always. An accusation(or acceptance of guilt) like in the sombre ‘Water/Sand’, with the line “I made the channels for others to follow / you drew the plans” delivered half menace, half lament. A realisation of “oh, no, this is happening” in the guise of “We will fall in line again / We always do / I can’t resist / We will burn in hell for this” in the fantastic ‘Mnemosyne’. Not only is the lyrical work full of rich imagery, but the atmosphere (love that bass work) is oozing dread. Is ‘Mnemosyne’ related to the persistence (or the gradual fading) of memories? It feels up to interpretation and that’s the beauty of this album in general.
The sound of The Shallows is cohesive. This is not an euphemism for “samey”, but more about the musical ideas and, more importantly, the mood. Like I said, it’s a rainy afternoon where you do a spot of self assessment, good memories (‘Reykjavik’) flowing seamlessly into bad memories (‘We used to talk’) then leaving you with a sense of slight confusion (‘In tongues’). That’s The Shallows in one long sentence. Want it shorter? Introspection. Yeah, that’s it.
Strangely enough, as moody as this album is, you can’t keep a frowny face (‘Reykjavik’ is I Like Trains in dreamgaze mood, utterly brilliant). I Like Trains have put a lot of effort on the continuous evolution of their sound and although I can’t pinpoint what are the themes of this multi-conceptual album (allegedly), the emotions diving and surfacing in the wake of its passing are there, as clear as the day turns when that proverbial rain goes away. The weather has cleared, your head hasn’t.
PS: Not the same genre, not the same scene, but you know what? This album goes rather well with The Twilight Sad‘s Kill it in the morning.