Sound: Hailing from Leeds, which seems to currently be the hub of the UK post-rock scene, iLiKETRAiNS consist of vocalist/guitarist Dave Martin, guitarist/keyboardist Guy Bannister, bassist Alistair Bowi and drummer Simon Fogal. Cornet player Ashley Dean has since parted company with the band but still plays on this album.
The band have been around for a while now and have forged a unique sound of epic post-rock soundscapes backing songs about historical events and death, usually both at the same time. 'Elegies To Lessons Learnt' is the band's full-length debut, coming after a collection of singles and the EP 'Progress, Reform'.
Those expecting a cheery listen probably won't find much to like here, and the opening track We All Fall Down sets the scene perfectly. Ominous, droning Suicide-esque synths and a slow, lumbering rhythm are eventually joined by reverb-drenched guitars which build to an earth-shaking climax at the end of the song - it's about a village whose population was decimated by the Plague and the music matches the sense of dread brilliantly. After this comes a complete change of pace in the form of 25 Sins, which details the Great Fire of London backed by pounding tribal drums and a tight, wiry guitar solo which is pure Jonny Greenwood. The album continues in this vein, alternating between serene (Voice Of Reason, Remnants Of An Army) dramatic (We Go Hunting, The Deception) and beautiful orchestration (Come Over, Death Is The End). Masters of the slow build-up, the band manage to make the post-rock cliche of building to a wall of noise work every single time, whether it's the perfectly-timed explosion of chaos and feedback at the end of Spencer Perceval or the lush symphony of strings and brass that makes up Come Over's climax. Dave Martin's chiming arpeggios, coaxed from a Gibson S-1 and Gretsch Electromatic then drenched in reverb, are complemented wonderfully by the tasteful lead playing of Guy Bannister, the ultra-melodic basslines of Alistair Bowis and the distant, regimental drumming of Simon Fogal. Musically, iLiKETRAiNS are close to perfect. // 10
Lyrics: 'Elegies' is a concept album, concerned with history repeating itself and humanity refusing to learn from its mistakes - told you it wasn't a cheery listen.
It wouldn't have worked for most other bands, but most other bands don't have a frontman like Dave Martin, whose haunting baritone voice is the perfect match for the music his band makes. Whether it's the ominous chants of "Call back, call back the cavalry" in Remnants Of An Army or the anguished cries of "This town is burning down" in 25 Sins, Dave's talent shines. It's only on the two more upbeat numbers on the album - The Deception and We Go Hunting - where his voice falls slightly flat, and you forget about it as soon as you get to a track like Spencer Perceval, where lines like "I will meet my demise at your hands, Mr Perceval, I am murdered" are delivered with barely-concealed venom. // 8
Overall Impression: This album has divided critics - some welcomed 50 minutes' worth of music from an extremely promising band, some felt that the concept restricted the band's creativity too much. That may be the case, and the cause of the odd weak track such as The Death Of An Idealist, but if nothing else, the band's 'Mogwai fronted by Nick Cave' sound is certainly unique.
It's also much more varied in sound than any previous (or indeed more recent) efforts by the band - at one point, over the course of two tracks, one will find the band by turns at their most restrained (Come Over) and their most dramatic (Spencer Perceval). The latter track also deserves a mention - never has a band managed to retain so much drama and tension for a full 9 minutes.
In terms of guitar playing, this is a lesson in how effects should be used. Forget intrusive flangers and dull wah-soaked pentatonic noodling - this band show that all you need to make interesting and beautiful music is a Twin Reverb, a decent reverb pedal and a few delays. Not since Explosions In The Sky have a band sounded so huge.
Since this album, the band have released the instrumental EP 'The Christmas Tree Ship' and are currently touring and previewing new material. They are currently moving away from the historical theme. Whether it works or not remains to be seen, but if this is the end of their 'library rock' phase it will be sorely missed. // 9