California Literary Review

When You See Sparks

A CLR Music Blog

Album Review: The Shallows from I Like Trains

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May 26th, 2012 at 3:59 am

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I Like Trains: The Shallows

Artist: I Like Trains

Album: The Shallows

CLR Rating: ★★★★☆

Great music acts as a direct conduit to another world. The world is internal, the avenues and features of the landscape changing with each new aural narrative, but you always know when you are there. The new album The Shallows by I Like Trains is yet another passage to this place that’s familiar but new, unknown but wonderfully exciting to explore.

The music is dark, pulsing; it drips with the artificial, electric sound of mellow 80s dystopian pop. If ever there was a soundtrack for a party held on the oil-drenched shore of a Malibu beach house in Blade Runner, this is it. Synthesizers frequently pair with drums and heavy bass rhythms that enthrall, while lead vocalist David Martin sings with a hushed inevitability as simple – and intense – as breathing.

Truly, this is an album for lovers of wordplay and idiom collage. Everyday phrases are paired in unexpected ways, leading to a tenebrous synchronicity that reveals the darkness lurking within the commonplace. The opening lines of “Beacons”, the first song on the album, state that “I will be taking care of business, I’ll run it all into the ground,” transforming two casual phrases into a new and much more ominous sentiment than its parts. This casual act of juxtaposition is not a singular event, but a theme throughout the album, turning it into a kind of written dream or calculated stream of consciousness. Some other choice delights include “the lion sleeps, honey dripping from its teeth” and “the blind will lead the blind into the rabbit hole again” – both from “The Hive” – but the entire collection of songs is rich with this linguistic love affair.

David Martin is so skillful that when he grows quieter on “We Used to Talk” the intensity there increases rather than diminishes. For much of the album he sings with a careful elocution that complements his deep voice, blending hypnotically with the distorted and assorted musical accompaniment. This is music that could certainly be danced to; the rhythms are often regular, quick, and appealing (“Mnemosyne”, “The Hive”) but it would be difficult to label this a dance album. The words of the lyrics are so intriguing, the music unpretentiously rich, that dance is less often inspired than actual thought.

Every song has something to offer, whether it be the funereal yet celebratory sound of “The Turning of the Bones” – a song about famadihana in Madagascar – to the enigmatic repetition and progression of music and lyrics in “The Shallows”. The final song (“In Tongues”) ends suddenly, abruptly pulling us from the world we’d fallen into and leaving us wanting more.

The Shallows will speak to those who seek passage to a world both dark and playful, full of 80s pop synthetics honed in the rust of old daydreams. It is a place not without hope, but without much sugar to sweeten the salt there, and somehow that makes it all the sweeter.

For a track by track guide by the band, click here to go to The Quietus.

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