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We Were Promised Jetpacks

These Four Walls

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Label: Fat Cat

There’s something about the United Kingdom that seems to breed a certain form of over earnestness in its musicians. Or at least that appears to have been the case since the post-punk era, when the sneering confidence of punk gave way to a new kind of inwardly reflective somberness. Joy Division begot the Cure begot U2 begot The Frames begot Snow Patrol begot Coldplay and now here we are with We Were Promised Jetpacks.

Hailing from Glasgow, WWPJ are four lads with a truly horrific band name that fortunately does not reflect the otherwise stellar material on debut album These Four Walls, an effort that casts off hipster aloofness in favor of an ultimately more effective style of bombastic sloganeering. Despite some cringe-inducing lyrics, the band are truly gifted at adhering to simple structures and riding them for all they’re worth amidst cacophonous percussion and proudly blaring guitars, resulting in music that is memorably expressive and undoubtedly on the path towards being the soundtrack to dozens if not hundreds of gloomy adolescent lives.

The group’s simplicity is ultimately what seals the deal. The guitar work of vocalist Adam Thompson and cohort Michael Palmer is fluid, streamlined and catchy as all hell without being flashy. Rather than the instrumental mindlessness of Coldplay or the atmospheric jagged work for which The Edge used to be known, Thompson and Palmer revel in thin, bright rhythmic exchanges that recall Snow Patrol’s early work. Moments like the ending explosion of opener “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning” work precisely because the guitarists utilize blessed restraint, only allowing their instruments to scream when the moment calls for it, and then dial them back down again.

Adding to this is the telepathic connection the band’s rhythm section seem to have; Sean Smith lets his bass develop a kind of call-and-response relationship with Darren Lackie’s drums, resulting in a push and pull that is more likely to be found in funk bands than your typical UK mope outfit. It’s this well interlocked dynamic that allows the final moments of the previously mentioned “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning” to be so devastating. Later, on “Roll Up Your Sleeves,” the duo steal the show, alternating between a jaunty tempo that used to be Franz Ferdinand’s stock in trade to a more brittle, minimalist New Order-style breakdown.

It doesn’t hurt that the band has a charismatic frontman to sell the songs. Though Thompson’s vocals are by no means technically great, there is a ragged, well-worn quality to his delivery that enables him to breathe life into the words, achingly sincere at moments, devastatingly demanding at others. This also helps hide the sometimes laughably bad lyrics, turning phrases that on paper sound utterly stupid into something important on record. In “Roll Up Your Sleeves,” Thompson states to his would-be stalking victim that he’d “form in an orderly queue/ Outside your house” and urges her to “roll up your sleeves/ We’re heading for winter/ I know/ The nights will get colder.” It’s one thing for lyrics to be obtuse, or bizarrely nonsensical, but Thompson’s metaphors are often contradictory or pointless. But with the Scottish accent and his excellent command of emotion, Thompson somehow still manages to come out on top, a charlatan whispering sweet nothings to some new beautiful victim.

The band shows an amount of promise on These Four Walls that far outshines both its peers and its limited medium-sized indie label budget. On tracks like “Ships With Holes Will Sink,” when the band reach their suitably epic chorus, it’s clear that they’ve grown past their overly trebly amps, thin drum and bass mics even if they don’t realize it yet. It’s even clearer on standout “Quiet Little Voices,” one of the most impassioned, driving singles to be heard from a band on either side of the Atlantic this year, with those disco-on-speed drums and the “oh oh oh oh oh oh oh” refrains in the chorus’ background. Fuck jetpacks, they should have been promised millions.

by Morgan Davis

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