It’s 2006 and I Like Trains’ (then iLiKETRAiNS) debut record has just landed. The forum-dwellers on afterthepostrock are foaming at the mouth; Progress Reform is a much-needed breath of fresh air in a stiflingly homogenous scene. The band’s historical storytelling, propelled by David Martin’s compelling baritone and anthropogenic lyrics, is immediately lauded as a triumph. Shortly afterwards I catch them at King Tut’s in Glasgow playing to a dozen or so punters, their tales of dismantled railways and failed Antarctic missions resonating with the thin, yet appreciative, crowd*.
It’s 2020 and everything has basically gone to shit, but I Like Trains know who’s to blame – the man behind the curtain, the power behind the throne, the invisible ghouls who shape political discourse. More livid than bleak, Kompromat is a far cry from the days of the band’s beautiful post-rock dirges and has moved into the arena of almost feral post-punk. It’s the sound of a band reborn and making the music only they could make.
For a band rooted in capturing the human stories behind historical events, Kompromat is grounded firmly in the zeitgeist. Lead single The Truth is a Krautrock-esque stream of consciousness – political buzzwords and truisms are spat with vigour over a slippery bass groove like a CNN talkshow from a bizarre alternate timeline. Lines like “I am the president, I am the overfed, bigoted son of an immigrant” from A Steady Hand and “how do you sleep at night?” from Desire Is a Mess are sung with barely contained contempt. The frustration and exasperation of contemporary discourse is articulated with an intense precision.
Screeching guitars and airtight beats blend seamlessly with the subtle electronics that give Kompromat its unsettling and infectious atmosphere, a delicate balance of power and beauty executed to perfection. A Steady Hand opens the album with ominous bass punctuated with howling feedback from tortured guitars, giving way to a beautiful and warbling 16-bit tone to see the song out. The glittering percussive synths and guitars at the end of New Geography are so subtly beautiful they’re easy to miss, like most of Kompromat’s tracks many of the layers of instrumentation only make themselves obvious after repeated listens.
Eight years in the making, Kompromat is a glorious record that feels as triumphant as it is furious. Closing track Eyes To The Left begins with a sumptuous synth soundscape underpinning an unsettling spoken word performance by Exploded View’s Anika, the refrain of “I can make you rich, I can keep you entertained, I took your job, I took your children, I took your country” building to a glorious crescendo of clattering drums and sinister, growling low end. It’s a cathartic finale to a record that doesn’t let up; there’s no space to breathe, no respite from the onslaught – it’s 2020 in miniature.
*In one of my favourite examples of friendly heckling, Martin proclaimed they were going to “play another slow song now”, to which a member of the crowd cheerfully replied “nice change of pace, ya cunt”.