That Scottish water eh? I’m not altogether sure what they do (or rather don’t) put in it but every ten years or so - when the general state of music south of the border is starting to leave an overly familiar aftertaste in your mouth – along comes another great mini ‘scene’ from the north. What with the unexpected recent majesty of The Phantom Band and Frightened Rabbit, Moffat & Middleton getting second winds, and Twilight Sad a few months away from hopefully realising their full potential, Scotland has properly spoiled us once more. And you can now add We Were Promised Jetpacks to the group.
These Four Wall’ is a rhythmically driven powerhouse of a debut, laden with cleverly-disguised pop melodies, fleeting post-punk (is this term now devoid of any real meaning?) nods and bombastic drumming. In fact the entire record revolves around escalating repetition, with the strict tempo outlined by Darren Lackie’s pounding playing at the crux, ably supported by Adam Thompson’s vocals. Most of the songs on display here start from a bare beat or single note, blossoming into fully realised colossi via the addition of a bass drum, some well controlled guitar freak outs and a highly repeatable life-affirming phrase such as “keep warm” or “sit back” or “stay calm” which is, well... highly repeated…
The album can very nearly be summarised by the opener, with the initially understated 'It's Thunder And It's Lightning' transforming into a mighty maelstrom and back within a five minute period. However the finest examples of this musical ‘building’ device are when the noise hits you square in the face and you weren’t expecting it: 'The Conductor' manages to throb with such a vibrant intensity that you should see the band bumped up a few summer festival bills on its merit alone (despite employing the horridly twee glockenspiel); 'Quiet Little Voices' is the record’s most obvious lead single and will inevitably get favourably compared to The Futureheads for all eternity due to its infectious “oh-oh-woah-oh” backing in the chorus; and 'Short Bursts' could happily sit on an Arcade Fire record and feel justifiably at home.
Let ups from these epic escalating mini-anthems are few, but show a more experimental side when they do emerge; 'Keeping Warm' has a wondrous instrumental first four minutes that unfortunately resets itself midway though and never really recovers and 'A Half Built House' provides a meandering moment of abstract reflection at the albums centre which - upon repeated listening - proves invaluable.
So why no higher mark? Well, it's a nagging feeling that despite the sheer addictiveness of the material, the stonkingly monumental percussion and the band's fledgling yet highly-accomplished abilities, it’s a bit devoid of that certain spark. All the elements are present and correct but it just feels a bit constructed-by-numbers at times, slickly polished as opposed to effortless. Hopefully that will come with time as We Were Promised Jetpacks can clearly create powerfully catchy songs underlined with a sense of the epic, but they’ll need to learn (or hopefully create) some subtler new tricks to bolster their musicianship and break away from the dynamic they’ve adopted for much of this first record. However until such a follow up exists, These Four Walls still has an immense amount to recommend it.
7Sean Thomas's Score