Iliketrains - The Christmas Tree Ship
There's something about shoe-gazed guitars that immediately take hold of the listener: maybe it's the sound's delicately ethereal quality or the innocuous, nostalgic soundscapes-I really don't know-but it has caught on quickly over the years in the music scene, with Explosions in the Sky being, at least personally, the most prominent band of the genre. I've listened to my Explosions' albums so many times they're starting to wear out, so naturally I try to find something new that can still bring about the near hallucinative state that shoe-gaze evokes out of me. It was not until very late 2008 when I finally found something comparable: The Christmas Tree Ship EP.
I Like Trains have done more than just change the way their name is spelt (formerly iLiKETRAiNs) with the release of their solely instrumental EP-they have captured an atmosphere. Though certainly not similar to your average Christmas song, and certainly not going to make the cut for Now: That's what I Call Christmas Vol. 16, all five songs echo a flurry of elegiac guitars and sparse keys-evoking the bare wintriness of the Christmas EP. However, the album's music is not completely hopeless; even after a chilling synthesizer blows the melody of "Three Sisters" into the climatic finale, "Friday - Everybody Say Goodbye," a fleeting feeling of hope is left in the remnants. Whether from the guitars' warming reverberations or the tumultuous crescendo to end the album, there is a pervading feeling of life amidst the freeze. This dichotomy of hope/despair leaves the listener to decide which prevails-if either. The ambiguity of it all makes the album beautifully subjective; the listener can take the shower of guitars in the album's crescendo as a cathartic renewal, the end of the winter and the entrance of spring, or of a weight crushing down-the snowy soundscape caving in-as the listener is submerged in the sonic force.
The Christmas Tree Ship EP is short and effective, capturing a moment in time without wallowing or drowning the listener in reverb. The music is influenced by a story of a literal Christmas tree ship, but the music stands on its own; it is a bold and poignant take on winter, loss, renewal, and hope, and its subjectivity makes it mine-a fine addition to my short collection of shoe-gaze.
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on 2008-12-10 Christopher Nosnibor Said:
Call me a Luddite, but I much prefer physical formats to downloads, and while I'm a keen advocate of vinyl, will still always take a CD over a download any day. One reason I always give is the packaging. It's hard to appreciate the artwork and the quality of the design when there's nothing. Yes, I've even been known to make purchases based on the sleeve notes, or even simply the cover art. Now whether I'd buy this on the strength of the cover I'm not so sure, but it's definitely possible to feel the quality: a gatefold sleeve made of heavy-duty, quality card with a matt finish, with the CD housed in one side and the DVD in the other, is completed by a folded insert, which is numbered. There's always something special about a numbered edition, particularly when there are as few as 1,000 copies.
As for the contents... 'The Christmas Tree Ship' marks something of a departure for Leeds post-rock merchants, I Like Trains - yes, the name change and the ditching of the lower case 'i's are not the only changes. The five tracks on here are all instrumentals, for a start. And so instead of weaving tales of historical events told in lyric firm over a backdrop of echo-drenched guitars, the chiming guitars and rumbling drums which remain an integral part of the ILT sound are used to express the story and atmosphere in purely sonic terms. What's pleasing is that it works, the music undulating like the sea on which the Christmas Tree Ship and crew met its fate. And gone are the crescendos that were their early trademark. Well, almost. The EP functions as a whole, the individual tracks flowing together seamlessly to form a single, epic movement, reaching its single climax, fittingly, only at the very end.
I Like Trains have always been a very visual band, with home-made animations accompanying even their earliest releases, and building extended narratives across the songs, from the dark and disturbing mini-sequence of 'Before the Curtains Close' to the full-length animated feature that made the 'Elegies to Lessons Learnt' album into a soundtrack. That 'The Christmas Tree Ship' sounds like a soundtrack is perhaps no accident, given that the second disc, the DVD, features a short film soundtracked by the five songs from the EP. Again, it's a bit of a departure. Apart from appearing themselves in a Radiohead-style 'drowning' sequence in the video to 'The Deception,' the band have avoided the use of real people in their visual works. Not that 'The Christmas Tree Ship' - the film - contains many people, or is anything like a regular pop video spread across five songs. It's sparse, it's arty and it's different.
As a (historical) document, this is fascinating stuff, and indicative of a band who are clearly evolving