Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jetpacks In The Pit Of The Stomach

Nearly a decade ago, four friends got together in Edinburgh to play their first gig at their primary school. It didn't seem like much at the time. It was just a small scale battle of the bands competition (which they won). Guitarist Michael Palmer has said that they didn't feel like a proper band back then.

It didn't take long for that to change. Three of the band members decided to move to Glasgow (and the fourth to Stirling) and quickly lined up venues that were more suited to their music than Edinburgh. The move made all the difference, even if the band had to share a small space to make it there.

They still might be playing those venues today, but FatCat Records happened to scan the friends of Frightened Rabbit on MySpace. A few emails later, We Were Promised Jetpacks were signed.

Although this story helped propagate that myth that they sound too similar to their label and touring mates, it also got them noticed. In truth, We Were Promised Jackpacks always had a raw edge that set them apart.

In The Pit Of The Stomach polishes up post-punk roots, but thankfully not too much. 

With the new album, there isn't any question whether or not the band has matured and become much more confident. To do it, they traded in some rawness but sound no less urgent. Along the way, they also have discovered a sound that is all their own, which has everything to do with their work at Sundlaugin Studios in Iceland.

With a full three weeks of studio time and a bigger emphasis on attempting to capture the spirit of their live shows, We Were Promised Jetpacks obviously set their sights on producing a meatier, bigger, and more atmospheric record. You can hear it on the first track, Circles And Squares, which sets the tone of the album before it breaks into the smoother, more sublime Medicine.

On a casual pass, some people might think that the first half of the album sounds stronger than the second half. But listen through the entire album, and the lower tracks take on a life of their own. Human Error and Boy In The Backseat have a big cinematic sound, something that wants to play loud even if singer-guitarist Adam Thompson never has to strain his restrained voice to carry.

There is a reason for that. Interestingly enough, We Were Promised Jetpacks did not record live like they did for the debut album. This time, they tracked each individual part, hoping to remove some of the mistakes they made on their debut. It also gave them more time to write the music.

That's not to say the band had a theme in mind. They merely wanted to write songs that were fun. For We Were Promised Jetpacks, fun obviously includes satirical social awareness, poking fun at how people blindly people follow sameness and structure.

A quick rundown of tracks to review before buying the album.

The album works as a collective, but separating out some singles give them more lift. The best of the bunch are Circles And Squares, Act On Impulse, Boys In The Backseat, Human Error, and the bonus track Build Me A Bridge. Unless you love the band, skip Sore Thumb, Picture Of Health (even though the lyrics rock) and Through The Dirt And The Gravel. And while many people like Pear Tree as a fine finale, take it or leave it.

All in all, there is a certain force throughout the album, with tighter arrangements and just enough freedom to keep it from sounding listless. You can thank the studio for some of that.

Isolating and lifting instruments at the right moments, including Thompson's voice, prevents the music from slipping into an indistinguishable assemblage of steady sluggish mush. It might even be a good lesson to learn. They sound best when individual talents are allowed to shine.

We Were Promised Jetpacks Hits In The Pit Of The Stomach At 5.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

This is a great album for Thompson, Palmer, Sean Smith (bass), and Darren Lackie (drums) because it does help the band separate itself from the countless comparisons, giving them a chance to stand on their own. That makes In The Pit Of The Stomach another turning point for this Scottish foursome. A good one.

In The Pit Of The Stomach is available on iTunes. You can find the CD at Barnes & Noble. On Amazon, you can download the In The Pit Of The Stomach (exclusive version), which includes the acoustic Where I Belong instead of Build Me A Bridge.
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