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I Like Trains - Kompromat (Album Review)

Monday, 24 August 2020 Written by Graeme Marsh

Photo: Ben Bentley

‘Kompromat’ is compromising material collected on an individual and weaponised for political gain, but in the hands of perpetual pessimists I LIKE TRAINS the word introduces a fifth studio album that surely means their own reputation is about to be blasted into the stratosphere.

The record largely ditches the jangly guitars that have adorned much of their best work over the past 15 years, and there’s also no room for any diversions into the serene beauty of a song such as Sea ofRegrets from ‘The Shallows’. Instead ‘Kompromat’, their first album proper in eight years, is built on solid post-punk foundations.

In places you could even liken it to a transmission from a world of sullen, industry-dominated misery, and that’s the direction the record distinctly tells us we’re heading. Lead single The Truth represents a phenomenal introduction to the collection, and the band’s new direction, as vocalist David Martin asks, “Is that the best you can do?” 

Somewhat perversely, the question could also unintentionally be aimed at dance greats Underworld. It’s almost like a post-punk riposte to the magnificence of Born Slippy, orchestrated and preached by the Fall’s Mark E. Smith. As good as it is, though, The Truth is surrounded by moments that can match it blow for blow.

‘Kompromat’ boasts a strength very few LPs do—every time you spin it, a different song could become your new favourite. Menacing opener Steady Hand is like a sinister, modern upgrade of Ultravox’s Mr X, as its blend of ominous synths, spoken word and industrial screeching creates an intense, Trump-baiting gem. 

Elsewhere there are moments that mash up the National and Editors, like the superb PRISM, where Martin’s vocals up the ante alongside twanging bass. A warped Cocteau Twins intro then sends A Man of Conviction on a journey peppered with driving bass and a return to those recognisable jangly guitars. New Geography, meanwhile, is another to have the National on its mind as Martin sings of needing a “drink to get through this” before disappearing on a shimmering sea.

There are nods to Joy Division in the punky, jagged intro to Dig In and the scrawled noise of Patience is a Virtue, and closer Eyes To The Left represents a terrifying reminder of the perils of artificial intelligence as our lives are invaded by devices that are always listening.

Put simply, ‘Kompromat’ is a stunning achievement from start to finish. Observational, current and vital, it’s a revelation. The truth is, this kicks ass. The truth is, this is unmissable. The truth is, ‘Kompromat’ is a masterpiece.

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