We Were Promised Jetpacks - Unravelling

by Warwick Stubbs Rating:9 Release Date:2014-10-13

Unravelling starts somewhat smoothly, gently easing us into its arms, but warning that “safety in numbers is something that you’ve never learned”, before kicking in with full band and propelling the rest of the song to its end. There is a hint of Interpol, even a background vocal reminiscent of the bridge to Australian Crawl’s ‘White Limbo’ – purposeful or not, it’s a great little touch and shows a great sense of space outside of the standard rock setup. I love the lyrics: “I was a number/ I wasn’t even or odd/ and I fell somewhere in between.” A decimal?

A dance spirit comes to tracks two and three – ‘I Keep it Composed’ would get the strobe light going across the dance floor in an instant. ‘Peace Sign’ shows they have learnt their dynamics and how to use acoustic instruments as a simple intro rather than carrying the song. It definitely provides great contrast to the stabs of electric that take over the song. ‘Night Terror’ finds the perfect contrast between a mid-tempo groove and a propulsive chorus.

It might be hard for any indie band to avoid the influence of Radiohead, but thankfully, the droning vocals and sparseness of instrumentation surrounding ‘Disconnecting’, and to some extent ‘Ricochet’, are pluses on an album that could have suffered from a lack of variation in its rock-based format. This is the kind of use of influence I like to hear – it’s imaginative and has great moments of intensity and power. For this reason, songs are thoroughly enjoyable, if a little lacking in catchiness – there are no big riffs, no huge chorus hooks, although the verse vocals of ‘Peace Sign’ and ‘Bright Minds’ come very close – but they do keep you interested. 

The band just never seem to hit a full pounding stride the way that the best Bloc Party songs do, for example. Of course Bloc Party are, for the most part, an out-and-out rock band in the best tradition of English rock with the best of England’s indie scene stirred in. Here we just have the best of the indie scene without the waste, without the boring moments; songs know when to hold back, when to take off; guitarists know when to stop playing and to just let the drums and vocals be heard (‘Moral Compass’) so that the re-entry of all instruments has the powerful moment it is meant to have, and the following dying away peters out with interest and purpose rather than just because the band didn’t know what else to do. It’s almost as if the music isn’t designed to smack you across the head from without, but to creep through the veins and suddenly send a shockwave of dynamics through your nervous system from within.

It’s hard to believe this could be maintained for a full 50 minutes, especially when, in this download age, it could be safer to track eight or nine songs at an easier 30-40 minutes, but ‘Peace of Mind’ shows the band is in full control by switching between a dark 4/4 time-signature to a peaceful 6/8 for the remainder of the song. There are some really ‘nice’ guitar-licks here, befitting the title as the song builds with great elation to a cymbal-dominated finale. The longest song at 6:32, it never outstays its welcome, much like the rest of the album. Songs hit mid-point without the listener noticing, often experiencing their end with a sense of completeness and satisfaction.

In most, if not all, of the songs on this album, there feels like a moment of interest, in the sense that you think you know everything the song has to offer, but suddenly there is something new – a tinkle of piano, tom-toms filling out a rhythm, stuttering guitars filling in a bridge section. It may not last for long, but it is enough to bring a smile, or at least, renewed interest.

Like all genres, you could say that we’ve heard this all before, especially over the last 10 or so years, and it’s true, but We Were Promised Jetpacks are still creating music worth listening to.

 

[Update]

I confess: I can't stop listening to this album. My statement regarding catchiness, though not inaccurate, is perhaps just shortsighted. The band has done a great job of fusing partial hooks that almost defer catchiness to the wastebin, but instead eventually reveal themselves as the catchy hooks they are once they have settled and taken residence inside your brain.

 - 15/10/2014

 

At one time or another, all of the first four songs have lodged themselves comfortably in my brain on continous repeat.

Lyrically the album is neither deep, nor shallow. It sits somewhere between dead-pan and cute twists. 'Peaks and Troughs' begins "I've been sleeping under your house, all week..." It goes on to explore relationship tensions without resorting to cliches even with lines like "And I'll try to forgive and I'll try to forget," because lines like this are always contrasted with lines like "that we grew over summer - we grew arms, we grew legs..." or, "I'll wipe the slate clean and forget where I've been" only later to build the same lyric to a climax of realisation with "...I still know where I've been!" It's these sort of twists - "There was a sum that was more than its parts, we should have stuck together but we've crumbled apart", "I've been walking over eggshells, I've been slipping on the yolks as well" - and, quite simply, the relatable nature of them that make the lyrics more than just throwaway lines. With their simplistic melodies/tunes they can't help but get stuck in your head.

I read some disparaging comments about how the listener felt WWPJ were heading in a Coldplay direction, but there are only two songs that reminded me of anything off Coldplay's first album, and that was only because of a similar 'jangly' guitar sound and a 6/8 rhythm. It takes more than that to become like Coldplay. Insipid lyrics and uninspired music making would be a start, and I'm grateful that neither of those are here.

 - 24/10/14

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