Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Today's lesson: history and politics

Today, I’m going back to school for some lessons, courtesy of a couple of albums released this week.


First up, history. This comes courtesy of Leeds band and long-time Daily Growl faves iLiKETRAiNS. Anyone who’s familiar with this band will know about their ongoing fascination with dark and obscure historical happenings, which they pay tribute to and describe in their songs. They’re so committed to the whole history thing that they’ve even produced a book of essays to accompany their debut full-length album Elegies to Lessons Learnt, so their fans can understand the whole context to each song. They cover cover the Great Fire of London, the Salem Witch Trials and the strange tale of round-the-world yachtsman Donald Crowhurst amongst other sad tales. That’s educational!

Musically it’s more of the same from iLiKETRAiNS. This is both a good thing and an uncertain thing. It’s good because I like their gloomy, atmospheric post-rock, and they don’t mess with the template already established on their debut mini-album Progress Reform and a few singles. Theirs is a singular sound which lacks variation, and although this is a sound that I find very pleasing over the course of this album and although the lyrical content makes for much more interesting listening than (say) Dave Martin singing that he’s got 99 problems but the bitch ain’t one, it does leave me wondering where they can go next. If they repeat this particular post rock sound and history combo indefinitely, they’re sure to begin to bore their audience. I’m not sure I’d be so enthusiastic about another similar record.

Maybe the answer lies in the track Come Over. I’m never a fan of over-production, but towards the end of this track when the strings surface, and the regular iLiKETRAiNS trumpet is heard a bit more clearly than normal, it becomes quite the beautiful thing. Who knows, maybe they could do something with this. In the end then, this history lesson ends up being very enjoyable, with the facts helped along by some fine music, but I’ll be looking for more next time round.

Download: iLiKETRAiNS – Come Over
Download: iLiKETRAiNS - We All Fall Down

Buy Elegies to Lessons Learnt (with the book of essays)


Next we have politics. But don’t expect to get a fair view of the political system in this lesson. No, the system is the very thing that’s the problem here, according to Jeffrey Lewis, or rather according to old UK punk band Crass, who Lewis is covering here. The album title 12 Crass Songs tells you exactly what to expect.

These may at first seem like strange bedfellows. Jeffrey, with his affable and always enjoyable New York anti-folk (whatever that is), delivered in his rapid-fire, half singing-half speaking manner. His are usually interesting observations on life and art, but what we’re dealing with when it comes to Crass is full-on agitprop punk rock polemic. However all is explained. Instead of a press release, the CD came accompanied by a nice little drawn story by Jeffrey, which explained how he got down with the anarchist punks. It was all due to a skinhead room-mate at college it seems, and although our Jeff was initially wary of such a fearsome looking dude (Lewis was a skinny hippy after all) they hit it off and he grew to like Crass.

Now, I would much rather listen to Jeffrey Lewis meander his way though Crass songs than Crass themselves and day, mainly because I like his style. There’s a certain playfulness about the way he takes on each track, which is a welcome relief from the lyrical content. I’m not sure if Lewis really believes all this stuff, or if it’s more that Crass were an important band for him, but after listening to a few songs in a row, you feel a bit worn out by the lyrics. They’re just so worthy, and stink of so much self-righteousness. There’s only so long you can put up with it being inferred that you’re noting more than a drone of an evil capitalist system just because you don’t drop out and join an anarchist commune in Essex and continually rail against all that disagree with you. Honestly, listening to these words that rail against the state and church make the songs seem like as much a relic as Socialist Worker paper sellers and evangelical street preachers. Over 12 tracks, it’s just plain dull. If that sort of thing is your bag, Jeffery certainly sweetens a foul-tasting pill, but ultimately can only do so much to rescue these museum pieces of songs. Which takes us nicely back to history I guess.

Download: Jeffrey Lewis – Do They Owe Us a Living?
Download: Jeffrey Lewis – Banned From the Roxy

Buy 12 Crass Songs.

A reminder of just how good Jeffrey Lewis can be here though, with his classic Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror.



2 comments:

Matthew said...

"it does leave me wondering where they can go next."

They admitted as much when I interviewed them the other week, so at least they're aware that they have a next step to make now. Not that they seemed to know what it was, but no rush, obviously.

I've had this album for a while now and because my inbox is so backed up I actually haven't listened to it yet. Criminal!

blogger to-be said...

I love Jeffrey Lewis, I love Crass, this really cannot go wrong. Are you going to the 93 Feet East show on 16th? The Mules are supporting, so will get to check another TDG recommendation out, too.