Recorded in their native Scotland and produced by Paul Savage (Teenage Fanclub, Mogwai), Unravelling becomes the ‘randomly named after picking possibilities out of a hat’ We Were Promised Jetpacks’ third studio album and fourth in all following the release of a live effort recorded in Philadelphia. So why are they still relatively unknown a decade after their formation despite high praise from large institutions?
Well, they don’t ooze cool for one. There’s no real identity on show, an identity that can often give bands a huge shove on the road to fame – like The Horrors, for instance. They’re just four ordinary friends from high school – plus recent addition, multi-instrumentalist Stuart McGachan – that grew up in Edinburgh. And they tend to steer clear of anthemic choruses too, with key changes, musical shifts or increased volume to the intense musicianship normally taking the place of a chorus; but what captivatingly powerful music it is.
With second album In The Pit Of The Stomach from 2011 heading off towards making a racket (according to lead vocalist/guitarist Adam Thompson), they decided to hold back for Unravelling in an attempt to make something different. Lead single and album opener Safety In Numbers highlights the desire to take a more focused approach: an up-tempo beat drives a synth-backed effort where strong, doomy chord changes dominate before leading to pounding drums and racing guitars that captures the same kind of mood preferred by Editors. It’s a hugely enjoyable cut but could have developed into an epic, over too soon at under four minutes.
The first half of the album is quite simply stunning: Peaks And Troughs is in the same vein as the single, an undulating bass line alongside persistent drums creates a backdrop for subtle guitar touches and Thompson’s vocals before a gradual crescendo leads to a cacophony of noise for the conclusion. Peace Sign utilises the superb rhythm section once more, this time leading to a vocal-free ‘chorus’ formed around a strong piano melody before more pummeling drums appear. But I Keep It Composed steals the plaudits: a constant tribal rhythm electrifies, guitars add a layer amongst more prominent chord switches and wailing backing vocals until an apocalyptic wall of noise breaks up the rhythm for an injection of darkness – a breathtaking track that could again have gone on for so much longer without any complaints.
Elsewhere there are many other highlights: an underbelly of thunderous rhythmical doom married with echo-laden vocals and intermittent, squealing guitar provide a moment of pure atmosphere for Disconnecting. The instrumental Peace Of Mind is another example of the band’s brilliant musicianship – too good to be just an instrumental, for once the length of the track reaching a perfect six and a half minutes. A Part Of It recalls Scottish neighbours Biffy Clyro in its introduction before showing glimpses of The Bends era Radiohead, whilst Night Terror injects some Kasabian-like swagger into the mix after a slower, thunderous bass line sets the tone.
With the focus recently being on Scotland for intense political reasons, it’s a relief to be able to concentrate on the art coming out of the country. Biffy Clyro, Glasvegas et al aside, there is a burgeoning plethora of talented bands bubbling just under the surface that deserves to be more widely acclaimed. The Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit, Twin Atlantic, Fatherson and We Were Promised Jetpacks are all excellent examples of what mainstream listeners are mostly missing out on; although unlikely to land hours of airplay on Radio 1 with their lack of big hitting Biffy-like anthemic choruses, We Were Promised Jetpacks have pushed the bar for these bands even higher with the release of Unravelling. Surely it’s just a matter of time before most, if not all, these bands become household names.