iLIKETRAiNS is a peculiarly British form of post-rock: instead of looking to the near-future like their North American brethren, with epic, extended, orchestral, fuzzy operas that seemingly go ‘beyond words’, the boys from Leeds look squarely into the past, mourning men’s former failures and times gone by, like any denizen of what was once the world’s greatest empire. But this view has kept the band from the myopic, indulgent, über-expressionist instrumentalism that can be so pervasive in post-rock. With the expanded Beggars Group U.S. re-release of their 2006 ‘mini-album’, Progress Reform, iLIKETRAiNS brings their melodic, almost indie post-rock to an audience perhaps separated by geography, but in fact bound by history.
Just to make sure the listener knows what he or she is getting into, iLIKETRAiNS opens up Progress Reform with not one, but two songs from the point of view of unsuccessful Antarctic explorers. Opener “Terra Nova” is the grander one in subject, as Robert Scott’s lament over his failed and fatal 1912 South Pole expedition, as well as in ambition, but it comes off as a little too affected, a little too grand. Instead, it is the following “No Military Parade” that is actually the more touching piece, as the sorrow of a rejected candidate for the Norwegian Antarctic team, and its modest build stands as the more effective one (this surpassing curiously mirroring that of Roald Amundsen and his team, who beat Scott and the Brits to the end of the earth). The subsequent “A Rook House for Bobby” keeps with the tradition qualitatively and lyrically, striking as the heated wailings of famed American chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, but just as the subject, the increasing insanity, paranoia, and isolation of Fischer’s later years, is less sad than it is dark and pushing, so is the song.
iLIKETRAiNS goes more personal, and less historic and proper noun-y, on “Citizen” and “The Accident”, but the more straightforwardly post-rock of the former unfortunately feels like filler material, and the emotional connection of the latter falls short of “Parade”. The band does better when they keep to their mash-up of post-rock and indie-tragic, such as on the truly epic “Stainless Steel”, or the rhythmic “Before The Curtains Close – Part 2”. A sequel of sorts to their very first single, “Curtains” is the bonus track added in this bigger-label re-release; this regrettably bumps the original closer, “The Beeching Report”, to the penultimate spot on Progress Reform. It is “Beeching” that most fully sums up the band and the record, combining iLIKETRAiNS’ focus on the mistakes of history’s ‘great men’ with the band’s most personal love from the past, the locomotive. Known to perform live in matching British Rail uniforms, the cold, ironic anger directed at the ‘progress’ put forward by Dr. Richard Beeching, and his 1962 report that shrank Britain’s great railways, showcases the band at their most honest.
From touring with fellow atmospheric-yet-rocking Anglo-historians British Sea Power and The Early Years, to breaking through with the fan-created file-sharing collection, THE iNDiCTMENT, iLIKETRAiNS has built a loyal English following (known to each other, naturally, as ‘RAiLCARD HOLDERS’). This has happened because, unusual for post-rock, Progress Reform is not just an epic and grand album, but also a personal, and even likable, one, with touches of history and perspective that reach, rather than distance, the listener.