As I write this, Christmas 2008 is receding into days past the decorations hanging guiltily on to the ceiling, the cooking trays full of congealed fat and the gentle disappointment of a thousand ill-received gifts floating in the air.
But Im still feeling festive enough that a limited edition Christmas release from iLiKETRAiNS feels appropriate to review. Not that anything from this band is ever likely to fit under the banner of festive. For the uninitiated, they specialize in real-life tales of loss and delusion drawn from the pages of history and while this EP is instrumental, it is no exception. The topic of choice is the Rouse Simmons, a schooner that brought Christmas trees to consumers and the needy alike in Chicago during the early years of the 20th century. It was sunk during a storm on the Great Lakes in 1912 alongside several other ships, which is a typically upbeat subject for iLiKETRAiNS to write about.
And while this is a solid release, it also draws especial attention to the strengths and flaws of the band. The emotive lyrical content is most assuredly the best thing about iLiKETRAiNS, and the sonorous delivery by David Martin is probably a close second. So while the instrumental material presented here is accomplished and evocative in and of itself, it is difficult though not impossible to tie to the subject matter. Worse, it displays that while the band are competent songwriters they transform into a much more generic beast when the vocals are removed. Fans of Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Rós may well find a lot to love here, but ironically perhaps not fans of iLiKETRAiNS.
This is certainly not a bad record, and it is an achievement that the band manage to drive out any sense of the historical story at all without any vocals to back them up. The driving crescendos of earlier recordings may be absent, but as a cohesive progressive whole it flows well. The crushing wash of South Shore and the ethereal drone of Three Sisters are particular highlights, and there is certainly nothing wrong with a band mixing things up a little. In the end though, this feels less like something I will spin over and over again and more like a whetting of my appetite for the upcoming second full album.
Explosions In The Sky, Sigur Ros, Godspeed You! Black Emperor
6.5 / 10
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