Album Review: We Were Promised Jetpacks – Unravelling

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Words: Adam Muir.

Moody, atmospheric, with seemingly endless guitar ideas and no lack of explosive endings. We Were Promised Jetpacks’ third album delivers a powerful, yet often gloomy effort to shake gig venues with. I’ll try not to overuse the word “climactic”.

“Something about those planets just didn’t align”

Unravelling greets us with simmering synths and frontman Adam Thompson telling us “there was a time I wasn’t evenly spread, there was a shadow of doubt”. So begins an album dealing with themes of looking back, moving forward, and feeling unsure of oneself every step of the way. Album opener Safety in Numbers is a song with momentum, driven by its drums and decorated with shining reverb guitar lines. The song continues to grow until after the chorus, where a drum break followed by a brief pause heralds Unravelling’s first sonic explosion of crash cymbals and ambient lead lines.

Unravelling is filled to the brim with these climaxes. Bright Minds ends with a storm breaking out of a swell of piano keys and cymbals. Peace Sign lets the guitars take over after the second chorus, just louder. Lead single I Keep it Composed builds through Thompson’s struggles of “keeping it together” and “putting up with pain”, before an instrumental break reminiscent of an army knocking at your door. By the end of my track notes I was labeling songs with “obligatory climactic ending”.

This could be seen as a bad point, but it compliments the lyrical content well: outbursts of anger next to musings of fear, and uncertainty. “I can’t catch a hold of my breath, sleeping in my pillow sweat”, “There’s letters on the pavement, I find them hard to read”, “I’ve wiped the slate clean, I still know where I’ve been”. They haven’t exactly created some jingle-jangle daytime indie.

What they’ve created is a dynamic collection of songs tailored to a great live experience. With the riffs, the expanding spaces, the swells & the breaks, don’t be surprised if WWPJ put on a rather special, heavy hitting live show. Look out for the bass groove-driven stomp of Night Terror, or the hypnotic, moody atmosphere of Disconnecting. Not to mention every climactic ending I keep going on about.

Unravelling is the sound of a band that have withdrawn within themselves, and there they have hit an excellent streak of creativity. Never is this more apparent than in the guitar work.

There is a myriad of guitar textures and ideas on Unravelling, and this is the album’s success. The colourful, expressive lead melodies provide unique twists and character to songs that without them could sound very similar and muddy. Instead we get the sleazy, snakelike riff behind the second verse of I Keep it Composed, the sharp almost synthy plucks on Night Terror, the rock jangle of Part of it. And then there’s everything that happens during the euphoric instrumental Peace of Mind.

The criticism to be made of an album of such well-realized atmosphere, is that it’s all one colour: frustrated, lost & gloomy. While this isn’t bad in itself, it can be argued the songs are often similar. Similar feel, similar content, and with most of the tracks building up to a climax, Unravelling can feel a bit formulaic at times. Another issue is when so much focus has gone into the sound and feel, there are very few hooks. While the choruses are grand, I didn’t find myself humming any melodies or singing any lyrics to myself later. Finally, the album does lose a little steam (dare I say unravels?) towards the end, and for an album built on climaxes, closer Ricochet is ironically a bit of a slump.

These points however don’t take away from the fact that, with Unravelling, We Were Promsied Jetpacks have created a solid and beautifully crafted picture of confusion, frustration and insecurity, likely best delivered by wall of noise during an underground live show.

Released: 3rd of October.

Label: FatCat 

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