We Were Promised Jetpacks: Unravelling
The sophomore slump is a common phenomenon in the sporting world; after a compelling rookie season, the second effort often falls short of projections. Five years ago, We Were Promised Jetpacks released ‘These Four Walls’. It was their first full length LP, and a collection of 3-chord progressions they’d been playing since high school. They were very much a Scottish Green Day, the songs were simplistic and the delivery was crunchy and upfront. Despite the rather shallow content, the album had a lasting charm, and was a hell of a rookie debut. ‘Quiet Little Voices’ found some radio play and landed a spot on a handful of television shows, and critics were eagerly anticipating their next effort. Fast forward two years and the four-piece releases “In The Pit of the Stomach”. The tone was black, the themes were emotional, but the direction seemed subdued. Songs bubbled and frothed without boiling over, and one couldn’t help but feel like they missed the mark ever so slightly. Not to speak ill of either album, they both find heavy rotation on my iPod to this very day, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that they hadn’t reached their full potential.
Enter ‘Unravelling’. From the first few notes of the album opener ‘Safety In Numbers’, the missing pieces come together. Stuart McGachan, longtime friend of the band, makes his appearance with the very first note. A wizard on the keys, multi-instrumentalist McGachan compliments WWPJ’s signature sound with an added element of atmosphere. Be it through subtle underlaying tones on ‘Peaks and Troughs’ and ‘Moral Compass’ or the more direct lead on ‘Ricochet’, his influence is palpable. Not to speak lightly about his bandmates; as practically every element of their sound has evolved with definitive prowess and direction. Lead singer Adam Thompson has long since abandoned his room-enveloping booms and swells and supplemented his spit-hit-your-face attitude for a more subtle and poised delivery. The rhythm section is on point the entire album, and Darren Lackie’s drums on the back end round out a group of incredibly talented and mature musicians.
There is a sense of certaintude and confidence that erupts from every breakdown and lead-in, a confidence that bristles and stretches through all 11 songs of the album. Opener ‘Safety in Numbers’ froths with anxiety and comfort issues, while ‘Peaks and Troughs’ traverses the rather awkward interactions of unexpected romantic obsession. For one brief moment, the narrator seems to lose all composure before quickly reeling in his desires. The build up is spine-tingling, followed by an explosive wave of sound that characterized their second album. There is some solid instrumental genius at play, as the endnotes drag out every last lingering emotion.
Composure seems to be a common theme of ‘Unravelling’, capped rather appropriately by their second single “I Keep It Composed”. Songs are incredibly diverse, representing a wide-variety of alt-rock/post-punk influences, without any of the tired cliches. Lyrically, the album is very emotional and introspective, but WWPJ manage to escape the rather limiting stigma attached to other acts labeled ’emo-rock’. That in mind, bright moments are few and far between, ‘Peace of Mind’ comes across as a revenge plot masked by feigned surrender, only to lead into hard-hitter ‘Night Terror’ and the band’s all time low-point ‘Disconnecting’. But these punches and lows aren’t poor efforts, nay, quite the opposite. Picture Tyler Durden bloodied and laughing as Lou punches his teeth out. ‘Night Terror’ is gritty; the personification of sleep paralysis brought to life with pure rock and roll. You can almost hear hints of Queens of the Stone Age in the final few notes, a comparison that should not be taken lightly. In keeping with the dark themes, ‘Disconnecting’ is perhaps the biggest sonic experiment the band has ever undertaken. It starts like one of Maynard James Keenan’s eclectic Puscifer efforts, except ‘Disconnecting’ is completely on point; a true marvel of their atmospheric ability. If ‘Night Terror’ was the the prelude, ‘Disconnecting’ is the elaborate nightmare. A complete mental hurricane. Thompson switches rather hauntingly to falsetto, and the tension is unbearable. ‘Disconnecting’ is nothing like they’ve ever done before, and it’s absolutely brilliant.
The bell tolls on ‘Bright Minds’, the theatrical second half of the album. Another day begins fraught with the anguish of inner monologue. ‘Bright Minds’ is a shining example of the sonic diversity embraced by the band, and much like ‘Peaks and Troughs’, slowly builds to fantastical conflict. It’s perhaps one of the strongest efforts I’ve heard from rock music all decade; a hypnotic masterpiece that swells and breaks, with the final few notes comprising of some of the most beautiful and humbling strums I’ve ever heard. The bar is set rather unreasonably high once ‘A Part of It’ starts, and unfortunately it never gets a chance to breathe.
Clouds loom almost immediately over ‘Moral Compass’, a song destined for a beautifully cataclysmic disaster. The instruments drop out completely until Thompson is left in the eye of the storm, and the end result is a whirlwind. The craft here is legendary; overlaying downtempo progressions onto a song that could seemingly tear apart buildings with vigorous fervor. ‘Peace of Mind’ follows, a beacon of optimism and sunlight. Much like it’s predecessor ‘Sore Thumb’, it’s an instrumental adventure of pure bliss. A tribute to the band’s rather honed skill of attack and release; the tension mounts and bursts beautifully. Absolute inspiration. The culmination of all things glorious. Needless to say, ‘Peace of Mind’ is magnificent. The album could’ve ended there, and arguably should’ve, but there was some more imagery left for display with ‘Ricochet’. A rather blue note to end a rather black album, however another testament to the band’s newfound elasticity.
So what’s the verdict for ‘Unravelling’? My immediate impression was that it was the best rock album of the decade, and truthfully, it certainly belongs in the conversation. ‘Unravelling’ marks the complete evolution of WWPJ’s sound, the epitome of everything critics expected of them five years ago, and perhaps the kind of genre-defining music that could propel the band into mainstream fame. Relentless rock and roll. A series of controlled explosions. An organic expansion of the potential we all saw from their first two releases, and a steady effort that solidifies WWPJ as one of the best bands out there.
For those of you in Europe, you can buy the album immediately, and for the rest of us chumps, you’ll have to wait till the 14th. You can stream the entire album early over at Stereogum.
Stay tuned for our interview to follow over the next few days. For now, grab a listen to their first two singles and hold your breath for the release on Tuesday.