Tuesday, October 4, 2011

We Were Promised Jetpacks – In the Pit of the Stomach

Hey, two weeks in a row of NMTs posts! In the spirit of pressing on with what has brought us thus far, we consider the sophomore outing of the Scottish outfit that is doing just that: We Were Promised Jetpacks, and their second full-length release, In the Pit of the Stomach – out today on Fat Cat Records.

Rather than lead in with a lengthy discussion of the Edinburgh-based quartet's history, it's easier just to point back to my February, 2010 review of their 2009 debut, These Four Walls. The foursome largely picks up where they left off on their initial collection, with driving and sturdy post-punk thumpers bridging the gap between U2's early-career anthemic swirl and the Springsteen-flavored punk of contemporary Jersey-based ensembles like The Gaslight Anthem and Titus Andronicus. And they remain a more muscular and charging version of their fellow Scots, Frightened Rabbit.

In that sense, the 10 tracks of In the Pit of the Stomach advance only marginally from the solid entries on These Four Walls, a meager progression that is both the new record's key advantage and chief drawback. Certainly, if you enjoyed cuts like "Ships With Holes Will Sink" and "Keeping Warm" off the debut, then you'll have no reason to fault the bulk of the new material from singer and guitarist Adam Thompson and his blokes. The slow-burn intros that defined that first album return again, and benefit from a greater touch of polish and precision in the studio. Tracks such as "Circles and Squares," "Hard to Remember" and the late-appearing combination of "Boy in the Backseat" and "Human Error" all line-up squarely in the Jetpacks' wheelhouse.

The lads are no easy-going, laid-back harbingers of summer, with wispy, clean-cut yacht rock calling you to a evening sail or a back porch soiree. Instead, they're a furnace built to ward of the chill of a coming winter, with their yearning, boastful projects warming up every corner of the room, and arming their listeners with a fighting heart. Thompson himself warns of the coming harshness, "its hard to remember a colder November" on the track named for the same line. To this mission the group has been true, and these cuts accentuate the pounding work of the rhythm section of bassist Sean Smith and drummer Darren Lackie more when compared to the first record, while Thompson's husky brogue and guitarist Michael Palmer's lanky figures stretch the band's sonic reach. "Boy in the Backseat" is particularly engaging, with its frenetic triplets and striding percussion leading the number just to the brink of collapse.

And yet, there's not an overriding sense the band has taken a substantive step forward on its latest offering. Sure, the first single "Act on Impulse" shifts the tonal direction a bit from the hard charge of the aforementioned numbers, with a graduating intro backing off into a more restrained and somber narrative from Thompson, with even a few synthesizers fluttering in for a fleeting moment. And "Pear Tree" moves inconspicuously closer to the Frightened Rabbit pattern. But, in all, there's no great leap forward from what's come before, and while a certain amount of leeway is afforded for a band to build a base of cohesive material at the outset of a career, a third record might stretch the boundaries a bit much in that regard. The group seems to possess enough talent, ambition and authenticity to elevate their sound; here's hoping they have the opportunity to do so before too long.

Come for: "Circles and Squares"
Stay for: "Boy in the Backseat"
You'll be surprised by: "Act on Impulse"

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