Review Summary: Direct and impressive indie-rock from Frightened Rabbit's labelmates; there's enough solid, and sometimes fantastic, material here to suggest they're very much a band to keep your eyes on.
Citing your labelmates as an influence is a pretty dangerous thing to do at any time, if only because it implies that the label which signed you has very little desire to explore new territory, but it's even riskier when those musicians happen to be 2008's biggest Scottish success story, Frightened Rabbit. It's much more optimistic, though, to see such a citation as bold
instead of stupid, and put it down to We Were Promised Jetpacks' self-confidence that they're doing enough to impress both newcomers and people familiar with Fat Cat Records' current roster. Are they justified in such an assured approach? On the basis of their debut LP These Four Walls, the answer is unequivocally 'yes'.
Playing indie-rock not dissimilar in production or sonic range to that of Rabbit or The Twilight Sad, WWPJ are nevertheless a different beast. Their music is arguably more accessible than either of their primary comparisons, as they drop folk influence for a more post-punk vibe and cut the progressive tendencies down to a more bitesize scale. Opener It's Thunder And It's Lightning demonstrates this perfectly, building to a crescendo where frontman Adam Thompson repeats the title lyric over a wall of guitars. His vocals are gruff and personable, as you'd expect, and the music suits such a delivery to the very last detail; the guitars punch and skip, the occasional piano line brings that bit of tenderness to the fore, and the band boast a persistent rhythm section which consistently maintains the record's momentum, and at its best - on the more aggressive tracks like Quiet Little Voices and Short Bursts - is explosive and commanding to an extent most indie-rock bands never achieve.
Most of the time, These Four Walls is decidedly straightforward in its tone; that's not to say it's simplistic in its execution, as interweaving guitar lines and cleverly constructed drum beats craft a sound that very definitely belongs to WWPJ, but the lyrics, for example, comprise a blunt and no-nonsense landscape of difficult decisions and raw British life. The range of instrumentation is also narrow, but it doesn't matter; the direct approach rarely damages this record, instead making it more geared to the fan of straight-up rock music and still greatly attractive to the more indie listener by way of its quirks, like the echoed production mid-way through Short Bursts. The aquatic interlude of A Half Built House or the long instrumental sections of Keeping Warm hint at creative notions that aren't fully explored but do hit very high notes when they come into play; it would be nice to see the band be a little less apologetic in that regard on future releases.
These Four Walls sometimes lacks the gripping moments you'd expect of an album in this vein; the melodies are less immediate and hooky, the choruses sometimes don't find themselves quickly enough and the lyricism, whilst decent, leaves something to be desired, but some of those attributes deserve praise and appreciation rather than disappointment. As Scotland's brilliant indie output reaches an all-time high, We Were Promised Jetpacks can easily count themselves among the reasons for such an opinion. They set themselves apart, and while their debut album sometimes seems a little camera shy and slightly too restrained to make its full impact, there's enough solid, and sometimes fantastic, material here to suggest they're very much a band to keep your eyes on.