iLiKETRAiNS to release Progress Reform on vinyl and play it in full at Brudenell Social Club‏

October 1, 2013




“Every day some new fact comes to light – some new obstacle which threatens the gravest obstruction. I suppose this is the reason which makes the game so well worth playing.” – Captain Robert Falcon Scott

Even as they’ve moved beyond them through subsequent albums, I Like Trains have never allowed the ghosts of tragedy they so emotively depicted on 2006 mini-album Progress/Reform to fade back into the history books. The spectres of failed Antarctic explorer Captain Scott and his successful rival Roald Amundsen, American Chess Grandmaster Bobbie Fischer, and the 1960’s advocate for British railways’ reform, Richard Beeching still lurk in the Leeds’ five-piece’s music.

Their tales remain mirrors to the modern world, be it Scott and Amundsen’s lust for exploration beyond self-preservation, their warring egos decided only by death; be it the use of Fischer as a pawn by the USA in their own paranoid game of chess against the Soviet Union in 1972; or Dr Beeching’s cuts at all costs attitude in reducing the British railways’ debts, drawing a sharp parallel with the current British government. Although the band themselves have moved on to the future (2010’s environmentally-minded opus, He Who Saw The Deep) and the present-day (last year’s glinting technological dystopia of, The Shallows,) vocalist David Martin’s lyrics still bear the scars of those stories’ past – the same mistakes are made, humanity repeats itself, we continue to spin, spin, spin until we’ll eventually stop….

…And so I Like Trains make their own return to these stricken narratives, with this most darkly majestic of mini-album receiving a full vinyl reissue on Fierce Panda, seven years after it first came to light. Reflecting on it now, Martin recalls, “I didn’t really want to just write inane crap about my life in Leeds, because I didn’t think it was as interesting as these characters I was reading about. We were 22/23 or something, I didn’t feel we’d really worked out the world out enough for me to put my own spin on it.” Instead, Messrs Scott, Amundsen, Fischer and Beeching became vessels for him, their towering shadows on the pasts of their respective fields transmitting his fledgling ruminations into cinematic widescreen.

‘Terra Nova’ remains one of the most beautiful songs the group have ever written; gruff in its sense of resilience, the stoic words of Scott’s final diary itself haunting the lyrics (“…I do not think that we can hope, for any better things now, oh the end, cannot be far…”) but emotionally breaking in its wrought peaks and troughs. Coupled with the proceeding ‘No Military Parade,’ it touches on the human thirst for discovery, our lust for it without precaution only dimmed when faced with the abyss of death. The male ego is also explored, not just through Scott and Amundsen’s duel, but through the bitterness of those who missed out on the expedition (“this one’s for Amundsen, though I’ll drink to anyone these days.”)

‘A Rook House For Bobby’ highlights the deep mistrust of its global rivals that America had during the Cold War time; with overwhelming national pressure put on him, Bobby Fischer crumbled into reclusion after beating Soviet player Boris Spassky for the World Championship in 1972. Over 40 years on, the story remains relevant, for Stateside paranoia is arguably greater than even then. ‘Citizen,’ with its relentless flow of guitar on guitar, continues Fischer’s story; it reflects the downward spiral of his life by documenting his asylum in Iceland, given to him despite his strong – and much-publicised – anti-Semitic views. Relevant to our day too is ‘The Beeching Report,’ a damning indictment of Beeching’s axe in the 1960’s, which saw hundreds of British railway stations and lines closed. “Do you just want to be remembered?” sneers Martin, as he attacks an attitude that echoes in the Conservative government’s handling of the national deficit today.

If these tracks are explicit in their references, ‘The Accident’ and ‘Stainless Steel’ are more opaque, embellishing the mood further without giving much away. The former is quiet, poised, reflective; ‘Stainless Steel,’ alleging the realisation of an affair, is I Like Trains’ only clear concession to the everyday, the narrator’s reaction drawn out across eight heart-splitting minutes, their despair spiralling in tandem with the baiting crescendo of the textures around it.
Ultimately, it is a sense of grim determination and conviction in their actions that I Like Trains share with the characters of Progress/Reform – even the likes of Beeching, painted as the villain of the piece;this is a mini-album that’s about humanity and recognises its warts and all. Its reissue is a reminder of our all-too-familiar trappings, and how important it is to strive against our cycles and break them.

The seven years since Progress/Reform’s initial release has seen much personal change in the lives of the band members, experiencing fatherhood, marriage and loss, as well as being signed and dropped, as the music industry’s obsession for new and instantaneous reached delirium. And yet they’re still here, for as long as they believe they’ve a message to impart. In a Western world drowned in apathy, I Like Trains’ couldn’t be more relevant, for it will be when voices such as theirs begin to fade, that we will finally lose our challenge to survive.

By Simon Jay Catling

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