As with every new arrival pulling into the beautifully adorned Time Released Sound station (voted as 2012 label of the year here at A Closer Listen), Where The Light Stops is much more than the sum of its plush parts. Like a transformer, there’s much more than meets the eye. Optimus Prime isn’t waiting to depart on platform 3, but the incredible engineering feat letting off clouds of steam on the platform is just as colourful, proud, distinguished and as technically advanced as that of an Autobot; that of the steam locomotive in its prime.
Each and every copy of Where The Light Stops comes complete with vintage views of the rolling landscape, looking out through the windows of the past, original train signal diagrams and a piece of railway track acting as the bow on top of the present. Not only that, but – get this – there’s also an antique postcard and ticket, along with a little red light that actually works. If this doesn’t get you excited, then Phil Tomsett’s music under the alias The Inventors Of Aircraft will have you salivating at the mouth to such an extent that it rivals a boiler’s water level.
Inspired by the eventual decline and subsequent derailment of the railway industry in the UK, Where The Light Stops runs along a set of points that haven’t been used for a long time, on rusted and dusted tracks that only lead to abandoned stations. The Inventors of Aircraft’s music feels very much like it’s alone, searching the once-beloved line and the stations along the way, only to find the creaking shell of decay it now finds itself in. The only life on these tracks? A family of mice hunting for food in the face of littered debris. Where The Light Stops is a remembrance as much as it is an adoration for a long lost era, a time when a once-thriving community lost itself in excitement at the arrival of such a beautiful machine. Not that the modern train isn’t a stunning design in itself – the Eurostar is quite a beauty – but it’s completely different and, over the years, that initial thrill has seen itself become diluted.
This adored age has long departed, but her music lives on. Travelling on the grand steam engines of the past was seen to be an enriching, privileged experience that would not just take you to A-B, but take you there in style; just like the Time Released Sound packaging and artwork. Now, most of us just hop on a subway and the pleasure in travel is no longer there. After all, we’re often told how the journey is more important than the final destination. The music is the farewell to an era, but it goes even deeper than that in asking just why is it so beloved? It’s probably because it isn’t there anymore.
“Another New Journey” rumbles through green fields of drone as if it’s an echo of the past in full, fluid motion. Abandoned stations sail past the windows, but they want you to stop and listen out for their cry that can still be heard if you’re open enough. Haunted, mist-shrouded stations gather dust in the air instead of the steam they so desire; a creaking gate that doesn’t open all the way leads to a waiting room with empty seats, sprinkled with an icing of shattered glass.
Our continuing journey enjoys green signals all the way. Drones seem to whistle out a long breath of sadness, dusted by disuse and the sepia-flecked steam of a bygone era. Arriving on a platform, the engine lurks inside the atmospheric, smoky drone. Where The Light Stops runs along two tracks of melancholia and remembrance that so often sit alongside each other. Electronically processed instruments carry the weight of silent decades that have been allowed to rust and decay by a sadistic government and it’s financial mishandling.
They used to care.
There’s also a sense of bittersweet irony on display; the inventors of aircraft silenced the railway industry with the blossom of air travel, and now those train passengers are flying at 40,000 feet. The desolation is clear as the train trundles along in a beautiful place out in the country, where the flocks of residents have forgotten their land, and left for the city. “Choir in the Clearing” is trapped in a mournfully cold time warp, where ghostly conductors whistle and shout and enthusiastic waves of goodbye tinted with longing are exchanged from the train windows to loved ones back on the platform.
“The One Hundred Year Piano” charts this melancholia along a disappearing route, as a piano pulls into a dimly-lit station that was once bright and full of life (a victim of one of the many financial cuts.) The doors are wrenched open silently, but there aren’t any passengers to hop on board. Everyone has already departed for the 21st century, leaving behind a thing of beauty in the face of modernity and fast food style convenience.
“Strings and Pistons” sends out low, chugging vibrations wrapped in chutes of smoke. A field recording of an old engine desperately chokes to life, passing underneath a tired piano, but as this cloud ascends skywards the track transforms into a burst of synth-driven optimism; these hopeful wheels are pushing in what is the first, forward momentum she’s seen for a while, until she’s at full speed. Choo-choo!
These trains may have terminated at the end of the 20th century, as high-speed lines continue to replace the engines of old. It’s like an Acme anvil trap from the roadrunner of the rails, waiting for the elderly Wile E. Coyote, who could never adapt, and ultimately, never caught up. If you listen carefully, you can still make out the whistle on a Sunday morning, and see a chute of polluted smoke hovering in the air. Only one soul remains on the train for one last journey in the first-class carriage. “And Now We Leave Our Seats” is the end of the line as we reach the light at the end of the tunnel, but The Inventors of Aircraft ensures that we can return and live again; this light stays green forever.
Please have your tickets ready. This train is now ready to depart.
Adieu. (James Catchpole)