Sunday, July 6, 2014

We Were Promised Jetpacks - "These Four Walls" (LP Review)

I wish I had a better story of my discovery of We Were Promised Jetpacks...  Perhaps a recommendation from one of my well-connected friends (Butch, Terry, Herbert, Johan, Joy, Scott, etc.), or hearing them at a small club while on travel, or some connection to The Cribs, or something equally cool.  Instead, I first heard them in the soundtrack of "Hall Pass", which featured the song "Quiet Little Voices" as the otherwise bland film's most memorable moment.  From the little snippet of lyrics I heard ("I'm young again..."), it took me a while to determine the artist and song, but afterwards I quickly sampled some of their other music and then ordered their debut 2009 LP "These Four Walls".

I haven't been disappointed.  WWPJ works the Pixies loud-soft-loud formula to perfection, and their Scottish burr makes it sound all the better (e.g., "beh-her star-ah naow" --> "better start now").  I think there is a rule that all reviews of WWPJ must compare them to fellow Scotts & label mates "Frightened Rabbit" (e.g., the Allmusic review).  I realize I discovered WWPJ first, but after several listenings of "The Midnight Organ Fight", I can say WWPJ rawks much harder than FR.  In fact, that might be what I like best about this LP: this is basically a metal LP for grown ups.  And I don't mean that in an alt-metal, later Queensryche Pink-Floyd-wannabe kind of way, but rather in a more Pixies or Weezer kind of way, but without the wry humor.  For example, when Frank Black sings "Got me a movie / I want you to know/ Slicin' up eyeballs / I want you to know", its playful and mischievous.  But it is just disturbing when Adam Thompson sings:
Somethings happened in the attic,  
There's no way I am going up there,                                                                    
Somethings happened in the attic,                                                                      
We both know I'm not going up there,                                                                   
Somethings happened in the attic,                                                                      
This is my house, This is my home 
Lyrically, many of the songs have a creepy ambiguity between the victim and antagonist.  Musically, it is more like metal (albeit with a melodic pop sensibility), with an almost martial, heavily structured and almost formal progression from segment to segment.  Listen to "It's Thunder and It's Lightning" and how the tension builds from 1:20-3:10 on the way to the chorus.  That's not how punk songs are structured (the Pixies would never take two minutes to reach their destination); that's pure metal.  Weezer occasionally does that with songs like "Only In Dreams". 

I suppose an unkind review could say WWPJ has just written the same song 11 times.  Sure, there is a formula here but who cares when the formula is this good.

Standout songs: "It's Thunder and It's Lightning" (live), "Ships With Holes Will Sink" (live), "A Half Built House" / "This Is My House, This Is My Home" (live), "Quiet Little Voices" (live), "Short Bursts" (live), "Keeping Warm" (live)

Skip 'em songs: none

Final score: 9/10.  I considered giving it an "8", but the best songs just don't wear out.  

Bonus link: KEXP has a link to an MP3 of "Quiet Little Voices" (this is either the EP version or a live version, I'm not sure).

Gratuitous "OK Computer" link: In my book, "A Half-Built House" sounds like the guitar version of "Fitter Happier". 

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