April 15, 2019
Released On December 2, 2016
Released By I Like Records
As I am sitting here writing this, it’s a gloomy, rainy day and I am taken back to the first time I ever heard anything off of this album. I was on a train (funnily enough) to Leeds, I was listening to my Discover Weekly for that week (one of the many perks of Spotify), and “Bethesda” happened to play.
I was sold. I could talk about just how much I love this song alone. It starts out softly and slowly, reaching and then building into this beautiful, ethereal sound of hope, belief in great things to come. I always will remember that feeling when I first heard it. Most likely because I was on a train and I found it quite ironic, but nonetheless it stuck with me.
From that one song, that one taste of the album, I was so intent on finding out more. If the whole album was an instrumental masterpiece, if it was just a one-off song, if the sound of the album was similar to that one song. I couldn’t get enough. It’s obviously safe to say that this album is right up my alley, in the sense that it is purely instrumental, so peaceful and calming, though still brimming with passion. And that is where the listener can really make it their own.
For me, when I saw the album art, I initially thought that it maybe would have been an emotional, melancholy album, but after giving it a true, proper listen, my perspective changed. The image, to me, is almost as if you have already had that emotional period and you are breaking through the surface, ready to swim towards and climb those mountains. This album has that quiet passion that ignites a fire in you and makes you want to do everything you’ve ever wanted to do. And I definitely think that this album can be taken very personally. There are no lyrics to make you feel a certain way so it is all what you make of it. And I love that.
This album has been many things to me, and as I am finally ready to climb a few mountains of my own, it has taken on new, different meaning again. I call this album a masterpiece and I truly believe that it is one, but more importantly, I hope others can relate to it in a way I have, and have it mean something to them in whatever way it can.
Post-rock auteurs finding inspiration in themselves to showcase passion & sentimentality.
It’s a weeknight that follows a tough day. The ground is puddled with the rain that’s been falling since you left work. As you drive it beats against the window relentlessly — another unwarranted pressure where there needn’t be any. The windshield wipers skitter back and forth in a Sisyphean effort to keep the visibility clear. But it’s that obscured reality that makes a night drive something more special than your usual commute. If you’re lucky enough to have a decent stereo in your car, the soundtrack of a rainy night drive can feel like an intimate serenade. Do you prefer more warm, bass tones or the delicate pitter-patter of a timpani drum? Maybe a gentle electronic arpeggio or the atmospheric echoes of angelic voices. Perhaps the violent howl of a distorted electric guitar grinding against your back window does more to comfort you on this particular day. No matter what the case, many music fans can relate to the special experience of a long night drive in the rain where the reflections of passing neon signs, traffic stops and headlights bend, spread and flicker across your face. It’s as though you’re the sole patron sitting in the middle of your own personal ballroom. Six minutes into I Like Trains’ A Divorce Before Marriage and these are the images I am conjuring. While its tempo is slow and each song lulls you in deeper to a sense of safety, it’s not long before they’re crying out with echoing chords of hopelessness and inevitability. This is a record for reflection on oneself, and reflections bouncing off your rear-view mirror. By the time you’ve made it to “Elbe,” there’s a faint loop which sounds more like a distant blinker or the bounce of shocks on an old car as it strikes the cracks and potholes in your journey. It plays off the seriousness of the fluttering piano keys and sets you up gently for “X,” a more guitar-driven track which gives you an opportunity to jump into the passing lane. It takes just over an hour to get from the beginning of the record to the end and when you arrive there and your stereo falls silent, you glance at the road signs and realize you’ve driven far past your home. But you have shelter, you have warmth and you have comfort, here in your own little red and green bespeckled world. You press play once again from the top of the record and turn the car around. You you’ve gotta go home sometime.
After listening to A Divorce Before Marriage by I Like Trains and doing a little investigation into why it says “Original Soundtrack” on the cover, I realized that this was the third time this week that I was being confronted by the question of whether music created to accompany visuals can exist on its own. My latest review over at AnEarful covered an album that was a recording of work called In Search of Lost Beauty… that was explicitly written for video, piano trio, and electronics. With only excerpts of the video to inform my judgement, I felt that the music was so rich and involving that I didn’t miss the visuals. Then there was the concert I saw at Carnegie Hall featuring a new piece by Du Yun made in collaboration with filmmaker Khaled Jarrar. My review is still in progress, but based on hearing it once, I have no doubt that Du Yun’s extraordinary soundscape, which featured a percussion soloist and two singers, one of whom is an expert in Qawwali, will repay repeated visits with deep rewards. So, it turns out A Divorce Before Marriage is the soundtrack to a documentary that details the band’s transition from being a full-time project with a multi-album deal and great prospects for success to being something more like a hobby, to be fit in among work and family obligations. It’s a tale to which anyone who’s pursued a passion can relate and watching just under three minutes of the film transformed my experience of the music. That’s not to say I wasn’t enjoying their take on the instrumental form of post-rock, which has them expertly building to crescendos from the sparest of openings, going from restraint and repetition to soaring epics in a matter of minutes. Perhaps it’s a bit too expert, or even rote, when listened to in one sitting. Which may be why, when I saw members of the band drenched in the natural light of the gorgeous cinematography, describing their daily lives, accompanied by music that lent them a certain heroism, it just all made sense. Now I need to see this film. Not all soundtracks can stand on their own, but it takes real skill to make music that opens up the psychological world of images the way this one does. Perhaps film scoring is a new avenue this deep-thinking and hard-working band should consider as a way to go forward. Can they get a train to Hollywood?
I’ll admit it. I struggled through the first half of I Like Trains’ A Divorce Before Marriage. I’d been feeling pretty good before putting it on, but by the end of “Bethesda,” I was feeling fairly melancholy and a little bit angry. Mid-“Wharfe,” I was thinking that I’d rather be listening to Explosions In The Sky or We Lost The Sea, if I was going to be listening to any post-rock at all, which I wasn’t even sure I was really in the mood for, today. “X” came on, and some of the gloom started to dissipate. I nodded at the synth-heavy “A Misspent Youth” and thought that was more like it. But then “Aire” kind of brought me back down, except instead of being mad about the whole thing, I just felt kind of wistful instead. “Ilkley Moor” is eight minutes of quiet building to two minutes of quiet joy, and “Severn Bridge” ends the whole thing on a hopeful note. It wasn’t until it was over that I realized the album had taken me on the exact journey the title promised, and that’s something that rarely happens. I don’t know how often I’ll put this on in the future, but I can tell I’ll be thinking about it for a while.
50 Foot Pop Queenie
An intimate & honest look at the realities of musical passion & realism.
In a recent cultural comment piece for The New Yorker entitled “Against Chill: Apathetic Music to Make Spreadsheets To,” the great and good Amanda Petrusich wrote about intentionally innocuous music and the listless listening it inspires. I was excited to see that she did; the relationship between what I’m listening to, how I’m listening to it, and why — especially in the realm of ambient music — is something I’ve felt increasingly invested in. Which albums are ideal for streaming via headphones, and which should I buy and spin for the rest of the household? Where is the overlap? I finally got my hands on a vinyl copy of Blake Mills’ 2018 Look album last week and successfully sold my four-year-old on it by calling it “spooky,” which is probably the musical equivalent of coating her dinner in ketchup to get her to eat it, but whatever; we had fun with it. I was happy to see that, in her article, Petrusich contrasted “chill” streaming channels with ambient, saying that the best of the latter “aspires to spark personal catharsis or deep release in a listener.” A Sunday spin through A Divorce Before Marriage helped me realize that I feel that same sense of aspiration in post-rock. The calm, the build, the frenzy, the return to calm… I think that cycle helps me process things. (And I bet I’m not the only one whose recipe for surviving the first year of the current presidential administration called for heaping helpings of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.) Given how satisfyingly opening track “Bethesda” makes use of the calm-chaos-calm formula, I figured I’d found a new catharsis connection in I Like Trains. But A Divorce Before Marriage drifts gracefully into other vibrant, wordless realms. “North” nudges closer to ambient, while the poised piano notes in “Elbe” would fit right in as part of a film or TV soundtrack — maybe a scene in which the main character is rethinking assumptions or replaying a bittersweet memory. That could be conditioning — years of hearing downtempo, sparse piano while watching those situations unfold on screen — but I can’t deny feeling called to join in the creation of a narrative when I hear “Elbe,” like secret and spontaneous autobiographical screenwriting. It’s the kind of listening Petrusich issued a call for in the final sentence of her piece: “… we have also come to neglect the more contemplative pursuits, including mindful listening, listening for pleasure, listening to be challenged, and even listening to have a very good time while doing nothing else at all.” I had a very good time listening to A Divorce Before Marriage. And I feel like we — the album and me — did something together.
Standing at the bottom of the extra tall slide, I was silent. The paint on the unicorn’s tail was flaking off, leaving little white flecks down my sweatshirt, but I wore it anyway because it was cool and my favorite and I thought today would be the day. His name was Brett, and his hair was perfect. He was never scared to slide down the big slide even though you had to be in the older grades to do it, and he always landed on his feet, never wearing the telltale smudgy dirt knees for the rest of the day. Looking back now, I can laugh a bit at the melodrama of my 9-year-old life. From the first track of A Divorce Before Marriage, though, I felt drawn to the emotion of the work. Mournful, swelling sound crashes through the album, feeling like a story without words, fitting for a soundtrack, but not isolating as an album. Even in softer tracks like “North,” the sound feels more intentional than one might expect from a documentary soundtrack. Knowing, though, the music accompanies a film about the band’s big miss inspires the imagination as the tracks wind down. At times it feels wistful, almost sad, but there’s a hopeful bent in there as well. This is an album for contemplation, letting the music play alongside your thoughts. Maybe a bit of that 9-year-old’s melodrama still lives inside me, but play this alone, play it at night, and play it when you’re deep in your feelings.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
Sometimes I get the feeling that existence, or something inside of it, is screwing with me. I don’t mean a deity. I mean something more abstract, because it’s me and that’s just how my brain works. I say this because I came down with a nasty and debilitating cold this week. It’s the kind of cold that is somehow resistant to Mucinex. This is relevant because around this time last year, I wrote about having a similar ailment for OYR Issue #110, dated April 24. I had similar symptoms as described in that issue, as well as the same apathetic malaise. Thankfully, I had soothing music then and now. A Divorce Before Marriage was some of the only music I found palatable during my convalescence. Its cautiously optimistic tone mirrored my own outlook (as in, “This will end at some point. Well, probably.”) at the week progressed. Its campfire warmth was inviting, and it was comforting the way a throat lozenge or a glass of water after a week in the desert is, and probably what my head—in a vice and submerged under water as it felt—needed. I tried to keep my sense of humor about me so as not to lapse into total nihilism as I am wont to do while sick. As such, during the sore throat phase, I applied what I was experiencing to music in an attempt to ease the internal tension. Thus, I arrived at a particular Annie Lennox song and the lyrics, “Swallowing, swallowing broken glass.” (Apologies if that melody is now stuck in your head.) It made me laugh, which made my throat hurt even more. But it was totally worth it. I have no idea if any of this makes sense, as I’m still a bit sick while writing it. What I do know is: if this trend continues, I (selfishly) hope that we as a group pick suitably pacifying albums for April 2020 just in case.
I had a musical dilemma recently. That doesn’t happen often. Part of being a DJ and a producer is having an ability to prescribe the correct musical antidote for any situation. Where I live in Norfolk, VA, there is a very active, thriving poetry scene. I’ve known some of these artists for many years, and some of them have even inquired about collaborating with me on their projects — they want me to produce tracks to fit their poems. But this is way easier said than done. My style is very aggressive, and big, and loud. I tried to make it work; I really did. But I just couldn’t figure out the perfect music to accompany these artists. There’s quite a fine line to be walked: you want the music to be integral to the vibe of the poem, but not overpower the artists. You want the pieces to be background music, yet also dynamic in the way the pieces move. The perfect music that I am describing for this scenario is A Divorce Before Marriage. I guess if I were to package this album for a store, I would file it under “Easy Listening,” but I’m not so sure it’s not “Un-Easy Listening.” What I mean is that this record lulls you into a state of relaxation, only to slowly raise your blood pressure when tracks like “Bethesda” and “X” build to a slow boil. It’s like a Drake instrumental album without the drums. It’s raw emotion, boiled down to a few beautiful chord changes. I Like Trains. I mean, I like I Like Trains.
The documentary may detail the band’s so-called rise & fall, but the soundtrack they composed is as creative & dynamic as the best of their work.
I talk about my late night commutes a lot, but it really is just the best time for me to listen to music. And this past week has had some very long nights. The store that I work at is nearly a decade old, and a lot of the fixtures need replacing and/or some deep cleaning, so we’ve been working on giving everything a facelift. There have been a lot of overnight shifts simply because it’s easier to take everything apart when no one else is around. Generally speaking, I like to listen to something aggressive on these late night trips in order to help keep me awake (you never know what might happen on the train at 2:30 AM so it’s best to stay alert), but when I work these overnight shifts I usually go home around the same time that trains have started to operate at normal daytime hours and I can afford to relax a little more (though it’s still NYC public transit). This is my roundabout way of getting to the fact that I’ve spent the last couple of days listening to A Divorce Before Marriage almost exclusively at 6 AM. I wouldn’t be able to tell you which title pairs with which song, but I can say that my trip home usually averages the length between “Bethesda” and “Lock 19,” and that by the time I get home I feel as if I’m ready to go to bed. I’m sure the desire to go to bed after working all night might sound natural to anyone who works during the day, though usually I need some kind of decompression period — even if it’s just to watch a single episode of Community, but it’s almost as if I Like Trains has helped me speed up that process. It’s soothing enough to calm my nerves after a long day at work but it’s not so soothing that it instantly puts me to sleep. (Although I would be lying if I said that I also haven’t been listening to it after I crawl into bed as well.)
There’s ambient music, and then there is music that is ambient. The latter, I’m all about. I love music that sits inside beds of keyboards and drones — sounds that are felt but not heard, and function to allow the guitars, bass, and drums to drive the song over a stagnant and hypnotic harmonic plane. Love that stuff. The former — ambient music — music that must stand alone with its low-key production, minimalistic instrumentation, and straightforward rhythmic approach — I realized today, that I’ve never really listened to before. Checking out this album at first, I didn’t really understand what to listen for, or get excited about, because everything seemed as though it were meant to stand as a background to something more immediate and attention grabbing. With that being said, such a realization in itself allowed me to fully enjoy the music, because once I realized that the moment I experienced while listening was equally important to the music itself, then the sounds served to guide my thoughts and perceptions. This is music that you can’t really fight against, or else you’ll walk away feeling puzzled, or maybe even bored. A Divorce Before Marriage is best listened to when you can focus on the music, until your mind guides you elsewhere. In this sense, you’re still experiencing the music as it guides you through an interesting interaction between your own mind, and the mind of the creators, I Like Trains. With a quick Google search, I saw that this album originally served as the soundtrack to a movie of the same name, which makes complete sense, given the way it listens. Nothing I heard on this album sounded bad, poorly recorded, or poorly performed, and I’ll be excited to check out more tracks from this band, where the music is intended to serve as the forefront instead of as an enhancement for the main event.
Like most of us, when I think to the stars, to space and beyond, to what’s trillions, quadrillions, quintillions, sextillions of miles from our line of sight, I feel small. Small in size. Small in knowledge. Small in significance. Some become overcome with existential dread when faced with this, and others, like myself, just become captivated, hooked on the possible what-ifs and scenarios we could hope to uncover in our lifetime. Much of this record, this soundtrack to a documentary I’ve never seen, evokes this same wonderment in me, from the delicate mystery of opening track “Bethesda” down to enveloping soberness of closing track “Severn Bridge.” I feel like a stowaway on Voyager 1 travelling through this record, not knowing the true origins of the notes and their placement, but also knowing what naturally must follow each melody and fill. It’s a delicate balance, but one of few the record so deftly attempts here. There’s the known and unknown balance as previously mentioned, but also a balance of light and dark, hope and pessimism, that are expertly countered half-way through the record on “North” and “A Misspent Youth.” The two are polar opposites of the other, or as much as two songs can be within the same style on a single record. One patiently reveals its light, letting pause and reticence build suspense and majesty, while the other bustles with fuzzy undertones and a hectic (relative to the record) melody, showcasing the dark in haste. Most importantly, there’s a balance of personal and detached sentiments going on here. The lack of words or any melodic motif holds it back from the level of personal attachment conventional music strives for. But still, when a pause lingers too long between notes or the instruments swell in unison towards a brief moment of clarity, it feels intimate, like its relationship with each listener is special, providing only what your existence could dictate in that moment. Just like the feeling you get when looking up at the stars in a night sky, whether it be gazing through a telescope on a country hill or stopping to look up when parking your car late at night. You don’t quite know what you’re looking at, or in this case hearing, but you can’t help but be drawn to it… and hope to find yourself in it.
Mercury by American Music Club
Chosen By Drew Necci