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.
Come July 11th the wonderful I Like Trains will be releasing ‘Sirens’ as a single from their BBO top ten of ’10 charting album He Who Saw the Deep. Representing that album’s more direct approach, ‘Sirens’ delivers a chorus you can actually sing-along with amongst its suitably oceanic guitars.
It’s out on 10” vinyl with ‘A Father’s Son’ b-side ‘A Kingdom You Deserve’ and new track ‘Flood’, both of which would be worth the money alone, but you get ‘A Father’s Son’ as well. The digital version sees ‘Sirens’ remixed twice: 48K’s mix adds breaks and squelch, and Dave De Rose mix stresses drums and guitars to produce something simultaneously stripped down and enhanced:
I never thought ILT remixed would work, but both of these do. And the video adds a sinister and revengeful edge to the song that I’d never really spotted before. Take a look:
The vinyl is available to pre-order here. Go get.
We used a spreadsheet this year. Yes, a bloody spreadsheet.
It’s still not a perfect representation of what was an excellent year for music or, in fact, what we individually valued, but it will have to do. And at least we arrived at a top ten rather than the fudge of a top four we presented to you, adoring reader(s), this time last year.
Residing in the bubbling under category for 2010 were cracking albums by: The Hold Steady, Titus Andronicus, Holy Fuck, Wavves, Silver Mt Zion, The Divine Comedy, To Rococo Rot, Gold Panda, Thomas White, The Phantom Band, and Wooden Shjips.
Which – when we look at it – is a pretty amazing set of also-rans. It was a good year for music, like we said. Here’s a Spotify playlist of (nearly) all the artists we loved from 2010.
And the honourable reissues were:
Nosferatu D2 – We’re Gonna Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On To Block Out The Noise. If this had been released this year it would have been in our collective top 20. It’s brilliant.
The Wonder Stuff – Hup (21st Anniversary Edition). More of a remake than a reissue, but still a pile of beautiful bile and hoe-down pop silliness.
And now, in reverse order for the sheer hell of it, here’s our top ten of ’10:
10. Drum Eyes: Gira Gira
Cloaks on! Enormous squelchy head-nodding sounds from DJ Scotch Egg and team. Engaging, mesmerising, sounds ace really really loud.
9. Four Tet: There Is Love In You
Kieran Hebden – one of Putney’s finest exports – leaves the folktronica to one side and steers a rewardingly wobbly path between the tricksy and the tuneful. Consistently rewarding.
8. Mugstar: …Sun, Broken…
Space-rock for the now age. Gloriously large riffage and droned workouts that eat your ears.
7. The European: In a Very Real Sense Now
Deserves a proper review, really, and it might just get one before the end of the year. Simon Break writes tunes your postman could whistle and lyrics than are still making us laugh eight months after we first heard them. Proper pop for the not easily pleased.
6. The National: High Violet
After a good deal of excited waiting we got something like the album we were waiting for. Something of a breakthrough/crossover album, though the production arguably blunted some of the charm. When it worked – particularly on ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ – it made you think there was hope for this big indie band thing after all.
5. Fang Island: Fang Island
A refreshing lack of po-faced sincerity, this record is a joy from start to finish. If you can’t smile to and with this record there’s something wrong with you and the world.
Life Coach – Fang Island
4. Teenage Fanclub – Shadows
Baby Lee – Teenage Fanclub
3. I Like Trains – He Who Saw the Deep
Not-so-difficult second album helped out by fan pledges – definitely one of the best ways of getting round the problem of making music pay for itself. Still doing an excellent job at the point on the Venn diagram where songs and post-rock meet, with Guy Bannister’s voice more than holding up against the swelling guitars and drums. Wonderful.
Progress is a Snake – I Like Trains
2. Teeth Of The Sea – Your Mercury
An album that re-instates your faith that the musically new is possible after all. Properly disquieting, epic and expansive, TOTS push at barriers you didn’t realise existed until they’re collapsing around your head. We love ’em.
You’re Mercury – Teeth of the Sea
1. No Age – Everything In Between
Abstract interludes, all out DIY two-chorders, angsty beauty and everything in between. A truly staggering achievement of tortured guitars, noise and harmonies. We both saw them live this year and were left grinning like shit-eating tortoises. Marvellous.
Shed and Transcend – No Age
We hope you enjoyed. Merry Christmas. And see you soon.
Jkneale and angrybonbon
[All of these lovely records are available from shops – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones, ones where there isn’t really a shop but you have to email some bloke. We like buying records – actually, we really do. And we think you should too, so if you like any of this and haven’t already bought them, go on! They’ll be cheap by now]
Partly via the power of fan’s donations He Who Saw the Deep is about to be released after cash was pledged to get it mastered, marketed and toured. Not only is this approach inventive, but it lends a greater personal attachment to the music and the band that can only fill a fan’s heart with warmth. I’m suitably heart-warmed.
For me this sense of involvement was there before I Like Trains embarked on this endeavour, as I’d begun to grow slightly concerned as to how they might progress their sound. Don’t get me wrong – another album of skin-tingling epics wouldn’t have gone amiss, but I foresaw a possible faltering interest in future releases. Fortunately there’s an overriding sense of progression on He Who Saw the Deep that allays this. And equally fortunately this is evolution without a radical and jolting sense of loss for what has gone before.
As if to echo this sense of development, lyrically the historical documents have gone. Instead there are stories of intimacy that contrast starkly with the de-personal distancing that themed the previous output. ‘A Father’s Son’ tells of paternal relationships in all their hypocritical and awkward glory – “I’ll occupy the space between what you say and what you mean” – and thus without the sugary coating that the topic usually generates. ‘Progress is a Snake’ tells of hubris and arrogance, yet is tinged with a slowly emerging and subtle sense of hope. And it seems that the band have discovered the power of a chorus, with more obvious hooks slowly but surely working themselves into your affections (although we’re still some way from pop in any taken-for-granted sense).
On the musical side of things the reverb might have been turned down a touch on the guitars, yet they still envelope, surge and sound magisterial when synergised with Simon Fogal’s always intelligent beats. And there’s a developed sense of pace and urgency about some of the tunes, especially in the upbeat (well, for I Like Trains) opener ‘When we were Kings’.
Having said all this about progression and noticeable yet restrained changes, the standout track is the 2009 single ‘Sea of Regrets’ which relies on the building epic blueprint of the past iLiKETRAiNS. Yet it’s possibly the best thing they’ve ever written – properly and truly breathtaking. Indeed it’s also standout for being the only song I’ve known a crowd demand be played twice in a row the last time I saw them at The Deaf Institute. They didn’t but I think they were tempted given the reaction it engendered. Here it is, in all its 8:05 and 320kpbs glory:
I’m only posting one track to encourage you to purchase. Please do – pre-order the album here.