I remember vividly the promise of a space age future as presented by Disneyland when I was a child. The park’s second version of Tomorrowland promised us a bold and daring future, one where we could miniaturize and explore the atom, take automated `People Movers’ from one place to another, and have individualized rocket jets that would take us to the Moon, or even Mars. Some of the progress that Disney and his `Imagineers’ prophesied would come true in some form or another, but there’s one thing everyone has been waiting for, since Disney, since the Jetsons, and since Astro Boy. The four lads who make up Edinburgh’s We Were Promised Jetpacks are far too young to have remembered any of the innocent dreams of the wide-eyed children of the Space Age, but their music is certainly reminiscent of the spectacular post-punk era with which it coincided.
Being young has never been a fault of rock and roll bands. In fact, being young is usually a requirement. (Just don’t tell the Stones, Dylan, Neil Young, or any of the other artists who actually do remember when Disneyland first showed guests the microwave oven). WWPJ first gained prominence when they won their school’s Battle of the Bands competition, and it’s been cakes and ale ever since, sort of. You see, that was five years ago and since then, the band has garnered quite a following in their hometown before moving to Glasgow to make their fortunes. Plus, they had to finish with university before becoming full-fledged international rock stars. Their youth explains their seemingly boundless energy, and fervor in the act of rock. What it doesn’t explain is their skill in the `art’ of rock.
Like Bloc Party, Interpol and Editors, amongst others, WWPJ has found the intoxicating middle ground between agit-post-punk and accessible emotive indie rock. “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning” starts out with a simple recognizable guitar cadence, but it’s when Adam Thompson’s heavily accented vocals start to rise in volume and passion that the song really takes shape. That’s not to say that every track follows a formula or quiet-loud, though, admit it, some of our favorite bands have been borne out of that method. “Roll Up Your Sleeves,” for one, turns that formula on its head, reversing the structure. The first portion of the song finds the band in that Gang of Four mold, though with Thompson playing the part of `Bono as soft-hearted footballer,’ while the latter half is more “Blue Light” delicate.
Though the singles, “Roll Up Your Sleeves” and “Quiet Little Voices,” are stellar tracks, worthy of repeated listens and placement within summer playlists, recalling some of the recent heavy hitters in modern post-punk who have since been sorely absent or lackluster, Jetpacks’ strongest moments are deeper into the album. (By the way, the backup voices during the chorus of “Quiet Little Voices” are one of the great touchstones of the album.) Songs like “Conductor,” “This Is My House, This is My Home,” and “Keeping Warm” stand out in that they appear seamless, as if they are not songs made out of different musical lines, but instead have always been whole. The repeated line, “something’s happened in the attic, we both know I’m not going up there,” from “This Is My House,” can be interpreted as either innocent childlike fear, or as an insinuation of something far more sinister. That loaded phrase, and the intense escalation of the song will be burned into your memory for a while, much like “Hey, why can’t we look the other way.” The eight-plus-minute long “Keeping Warm” is essentially a song in two parts, the first an atmospheric instrumental, the latter a charging post-punk anthem that could easily have been a single on its own. The two parts together make the song altogether more daring and imaginative.
I think it can’t be a mistake that the intermission-like track, “A Half Built House,” is made up of spacey atmospheric strains and a robotic female phone-voice counting off numbers. It was the type of thing I would expect myself to remember as a revisionist soundtrack to Disney’s Mission to Mars. But, time marches on, and Mission to Mars, which used to be Rocket to the Moon, then Mission to the Moon once American astronauts actually achieved Kennedy’s vision, has been replaced by a terrible film adaptation and a pizza joint. And although We Were Promised Jetpacks might not have been directly exposed to an era where we all dreamed of aquacars, rocket jets and colonies on the Moon, they have been exposed to some really great music. Like all successful artists, this charmingly accented band have taken from their collective pasts and put their own stamp on it. We Were Promised Jetpacks have been playing a certain number of these songs for quite a while, so it’s understandable they sound so polished in their brashness, but I can’t wait to see what they have planned as a second act.
Video: “Quiet Little Voices”