U.K. post-rockers iLIKETRAiNS take another step forward, by going back into the past, with their impressive full-length, Elegies to Lessons Learnt. Following up on last year’s debut ‘mini-album’, Progress Reform (QRO review), the Leeds-based band is a little more straightforward and little less grand, but the shift towards compactness is not severe, nor unwelcome. Elegies puts iLIKETRAiNS’ approach to British history front and center, allowing it to intrigue and interest the listener while the group takes their ear on a railcar journey through days of yesteryear when the world seemed to be collapsing.
Elegies opens with its two most ancient subjects for “We All Fall Down” and “Twenty Five Sins”, taking on two English towns, one small and one large, facing extermination. “Fall” puts you in the small Derbyshire town of Egam in 1665 as plague stalks the land, while “Sins” brings the heat of the Great Fire of London from the following year. Slow and quiet with clear lyrics, “Fall” is not exactly the same iLIKETRAiNS as Progress Reform, crashing really only at the end, while “Sins” is almost a marching anthem, with its rat-tat-tat drumming.
iLIKETRAiNS do not, however, limit themselves to the distant past, nor even to England’s shores, though nearly all of the pieces are still through the eye of the Empire. “The Deception” and “Death Of An Idealist” both cover much more recent subjects of the crown, both famed liars uncovered half a world away: the former, Donald Crowhurst, who committed suicide while faking success in a round-the-world yacht race in 1969, the latter, MP John Stonehouse, who faked his death and fled to Australia to escape his debts, five years after. Of the two, “Deception” is the greater, as the second single reminds clearly of Progress’s powerful “Rook House For Bobby”, though a little shinier and kinder to the man at the center of things, while the orchestral “Idealist” is strong, but a little unremarkable.
The crumbling worlds of “Fall” and “Sins” meets the crumbling outer reaches of her majesty’s domain on the back-to-back “Remnants of an Army” and “We Go Hunting”. “Remnants” chronicles the subject of a famed painting of the same name, Dr. William Brydon, the only survivor of an army of 19,500 men who retreated from Kabul in the 1892 Anglo-Afghan War; even more somber and dark, it is still clear, a wistful, very evocative elegy to the sun setting on the British Empire. “Hunting” takes on a much better known topic (especially to American ears), the Salem Witch Trials of 1672, and is similarly the most accessible of all the tracks on Elegies.
Even more than the English eyes, how death stalks us all is a constant on Elegies, from armies and towns, fakers and suicides, to the mightiest of the mighty – and their would-be assassins. Not one, but two tracks cover crazed men who attempted to kill Britain’s leader, one successful, one not, just twelve years apart. The failed 1800 assassination of George III by James Hedfield – and his successful insanity plea – would seem to give “The Voice Of Reason” the edge, but it plays rather like a shadow of “We All Fall Down”, and it is “Spencer Perceval”, Elegies’s first single, that is the standout – not just of the two, but of this standout record. The only British Prime Minister ever to be murdered (his last words literally were, “I am murdered”), iLIKETRAiNS still focuses not on Perceval but on his killer, John Bellingham. Growing amazingly, “Perceval” goes truly epic, like iLIKETRAiNS – squared.
Unfortunately, other than “Perceval”, the final third of Elegies is its weakest, as the topics grow less and less specific. The sad blues-jazz feel of Berlin Wall piece “Come Over” is nice with its horns, but not outstanding, and a similar sentiment can be felt with regards to the topic-less penultimate instrumental, “Epiphany”. Finisher “Death Is the End” is supposed to be the climatic final lesson learnt on Elegies, but one can’t help but feel that the almost gospel in scope number just isn’t quite what iLIKETRAiNS do best.
Live, iLIKETRAiNS do not lack for ambition, wearing matching white shirts, black pants, black ties, and black armbands (“to remember those people in history we sing about”), and playing a collection of grainy photographs as a slide show to go along with each piece. And on Elegies to Lessons Learnt, the band is similarly upfront and ambitious, going from small towns to big cities, the heart of London to the ends of the earth, murderers, madmen, suicides, fake death, to the end itself.