Tuesday, February 16, 2010

We Were Promised Jetpacks

If you've ever been curious what a blend of Interpol and The Proclaimers might sound like, We Were Promised Jetpacks out of Glasgow, Scottland might be your answer. Should Darth Craig Feurgeson ever describe the vocal talents of frontman Adam Thompson, he might say "the brogue is strong in this one."

Certainly, Thompson's Scottishness is unmistakable in his cadence, but that fundamental influence isn't overwrought with shoehorned and rote Celtic components like bagpipes and drunken drum pounding. Rather, the young foursome relies on the tried and true method of delivering rock music: straight-forward, earnest and damn-the-torpedoes anthems on the groups debut effort, These Four Walls. The approach yields a couple dead-on-balls accurate tunes that in another day and age would have been sure-fire hits.

"Quiet Little Voices" is a blistering trick of a song, that resides somewhere between the hapazardness of The Strokes and the more etherial work of fellow Glaswegians Franz Ferdinand, but would have had no trouble fitting in on MTV in 1984 with Blondie and Madness (back when, you know, the network actually played music videos and stuff). The track is fantastic sing-along material and manages to keep pace with itself, driven along nicely by rhythm section of Sean Smith (bass) and Darren Lackie (drums), with lead guitarist Michael Palmer neatly replicating Chris Stein's early 80's sound.

Meanwhile, "Roll Up Your Sleves" charges along with a compelling bass line by Smith as its guidepost, but also is mildly evocative of the perpetual 90's heatseekers from northern Virginia, Emmet Swimming. It's quite something how closely Thompson's distinctive timbre matches that of Emmet's Todd Watts, although the latter's throaty register is more Kentucky than Celtic. Regardless, Thompson's lyrical warnings of the coming onslaught of winter is the perfect counterpoint to the song's driving energy.

Beyond the seeing-eye singles, the remainder of the 11-track album offers a good dose of solid and enjoyable tunes that demonstrates the group has much to offer. The steady buildup of the intro track, "Its Thunder and It's Lightning" makes Thompson's narrative of a "body (that) was black and blue" somehow seem fulfilling, and the over 8-minute mini-opus, "Keeping Warm" not meandering, but a worthwhile journey that doesn't seize under its extended duration, but rather builds momentum. At the same time, simple added elements such as xlyophone flourishes on the album opener and "Conductor," along with a touch of piano at the end of "Roll Up Your Sleves" add a bit of welcomed diversion from the band's basic guitar-guitar-bass-drums framework. Other nice things could be said about tracks such as "Ships With Holes Will Sink" and "Short Bursts," but you might as well just go buy the thing.

However, before you do, one important note: if you're the type of music listener who buys new recordings by the song, rather than the album, be sure to avoid the mid-collection blunder "A Half Built House." Thompson and his colleagues should have just finished building the house, instead, as what they present here is a collection of unfocused noise. If I wanted to listen to that type of material, I'd simply find my way to Wilco's A Ghost Is Born or some Sonic Youth outtakes, because those folks have some skill at it. The Jetpacks lads should have just stuck to what works best for them in this case, which is rocking out – something that they very capably managed to do throughout the rest of These Four Walls.

Come for: "Quiet Little Voices"
Stay for: "Roll Up Your Sleeves"
You'll be surprised by: "Keeping Warm"

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