I Like Trains: The Shallows
I’m struggling to remember a review that has taken so long to form in my tiny little mind (something you’ll doubt when you’ve read it). This is mainly due to the amount of re-learning, even retraining, The Shallows has demanded.
So the day comes when you get wind that one of your favourite bands is making a new album and you fall into the requisite states of excitement and anticipation. When it finally arrives in your world – as this did, shamefully, some time ago now – and you hit play for the first time, expectations reach silly proportions. If and when you then realise that these prospects are not going to be easily or immediately sated, a sense of disappointment can take hold.
You persist. You succumb to a mode of slow listening. You hold onto your band loyalty. You adjust and recalibrate your ears. You attempt the ‘listening as if for the first time’ technique. You imagine the band as having a different history. And then, from seemingly nowhere, it begins to make sense.
The signs were there. He Who Saw The Deep represented a departure from the immediate pleasures of previous releases, yet it included the magisterial ‘Sea of Regrets’ as a link to the past and the rasping bass that signaled the change in energy during ‘Progress is a Snake’ satisfied various needs. On The Shallows nearly all hints at or memories of the epic and the theatrical have been laid to rest. The waves of guitars and orchestration which characterised earlier ILT releases were akin to ominous and coastal-defence defying breakers. Here there is a gentle almost imperceptible lapping of calm water around the edges of your emotions that takes time to weather and do its damage. And on repeated listens you realise that crescendos are there if you still need that fix (especially on ‘The Hive’ and ‘Reykjavik’), but they’re handled with more subtlety and are submerged further down into the mix so as to give the vocals, the choruses and the delightfully opaque lyrics more prominence. In short, it’s more The National than Mogwai.
Hence The Shallows is not an easy first, second or third listen if you don’t want your assurances challenged. With effort, a reorientation of perspective and an abandonment of certain tags, you’re gradually repaid through a realisation that these are really great songs (not cinematic ‘movements’). I’m desperate (and once again expectations are built) that it translates and is enhanced further in a live situation.