Review Summary: The Jetpacks have discovered that there is a space between ballads and full throttle.
Scotland has come to be known for a variety of bands exploring the darker, moodier sides of music. Groups like Mogwai
, Frightened Rabbit
and The Twilight Sad
introduced the world to a craft of piling layers of noise one upon the other, and, probably even more noteworthy, made it fashionable again to sing in a Scottish accent. We Were Promised Jetpacks have built on that heritage, combining the rawness coming from their origins with a sensibility for traditional indie rock. It is a simple, yet effective formula that worked fine for the four Glaswegians: Take two guitars, bass, drum set and an irate Scottish vocalist and rock the house making as much noise as possible. Their new release, though, sees them grow past that template. Despite always having had an anthemic quality in their songs, Unravelling marks the spot in their career where they fully embrace that idea.
The inclusion of multi-instrumentalist Stuart McGachan seems to have opened up a whole new world of musical colors to the band. Although they have experimented with keyboards in the past, those elements stuck out as artifacts, out of touch with the rest of the band. McGachan, however, succeeds to coax some new sounds from the band. Not only have they shifted down some gears on their more energetic songs, but they have discovered that there is a space between ballads and full throttle. Songs like “Night Terror“ and “Bright Minds” have interesting grooves that are primarily allowed to exist because drummer Darren Lackie refrains from beating the hell out of his drum set all the time. Frontman Adam Thompson as well shows a new level of self-assurance, singing relaxedly even over the more propulsive rhythms. The changed focus in the mix gives him the needed space to explore the fragile facets of his voice, and he takes advantage of that quite often. Especially in the latter half of the album, he is supported by a backdrop that remarkably relies on keyboards and atmospheric sounds and introduces a much-welcomed sonic shift for the band.
As becomes apparent over the course of the album, Unravelling is much more about the fine nuances than previous albums have been. Where songs like “Quiet Little Voices” and “Roll Up Your Sleeves” covered up the lack of instrumental hooks with layered chants and noisy eruptions, the band are now much more confident to leave out, to omit, to show bare skin. On Unravelling, it becomes clear that riffs never were the focus of their music. What made the Jetpacks so special was their ability to create tension over the course of a song and to release it with devastating effect. Nothing has changed about that on this album; it is only executed more subtly than before. When the moment of catharsis kicks in on opener “Safety In Numbers”, more than two and a half minutes have already passed. On their first album, a song like “Short Bursts” would have taken a mere 65 seconds of time for that.
Certainly, We Were Promised Jetpacks were not going to remain forever those slightly hyperactive rock musicians they were on their first two albums. But it is still interesting to follow them on their growth towards adulthood, with all of its implications: losing your juvenile temper, having to take over responsibility for your own actions and the lives of others, seeing your childhood dreams fade in the light of life’s constraints. Unravelling is very indicative of that process. At the same time though, it reminds us that growing up doesn’t mean you won’t feel strongly about anything; rather, the things you react to will be different.