album review for clash
Cards on the table: We Were Promised Jetpacks' signing to FatCat was a surprise to many music fans watching the Scottish unsigned music scene. It was thought by a fair few of us that there were better undiscovered gems out there, and that Jetpacks would struggle to follow-up the preceding FatCat releases from north of the border: The Twilight Sad's awesomely powerful debut album and Frightened Rabbit's widely acclaimed ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’.
Hands up: Jetpacks have proved us doubters wrong – ‘These Four Walls’ can stand proudly alongside both those brilliant records. The Edinburgh four-piece were actually brought to FatCat's attention by Frightened Rabbit, and have made good on their early promise with new, improved recordings of previously heard tracks; even better new tracks; and an attitude to constructing an album-as-whole that makes ‘These Four Walls’ greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, it's one of the best Scottish debuts for years.
And it's all about the rhythms - well, mostly. Like early Echo & The Bunnymen and U2, Jetpacks know that propulsive drums can be hugely effective without any concessions to funk or swing. It seems an obvious tactic, but by building everything on top of rollicking percussion from drummer Darren Lackie, Jetpacks ramp up tension for singer Adam Thompson to powerfully unleash. It's demonstrated best on ‘Short Bursts’, the fast-rolling drums on which sound huge, and in a hurry to get somewhere. A sombre, ominous opening is ripped up by scratching guitars and splaying hi-hats, Thompson yells, guitars fall away and tease themselves back in, the bass pokes a head round the door; "We'll teach you to die!" prompts an almighty squalling racket and, then, everyone leaves, steps out… and just the huge drums remain.
If it seems kinda simple on paper, it's exhilarating in practice, and the way they use driving 4/4 rhythms throughout gives ‘These Four Walls’ an undeniable energy. Check out the catalytic beats of ‘Quiet Little Voices’, which support a repeating three-chord riff and Thompson's anthemic chorus - it's sure to be a festival favourite this year.
Thompson's a romantic young guy, whose lyrics are repeated regularly so they become more like mantras. You won't forget his protective advice to "stay calm" or to "keep warm" or to "make time for us", because he says it again and again. But lyrics aren't really important here - too-clever wordplay would be implausible for a vocalist who hollers like Thompson, on a record that's more about sweaty youthful urgency than thoughtful rumination.
And such incessant rhythms could get formulaic, but Jetpacks have thought of that, too. The fifth track is a percussion-less instrumental interlude, an atmospheric drift and swell that sets the scene for the second half; and the tenth and final track is a beautiful acoustic-only lament, which eases us home with a sigh. Again, that's a standard album closer tactic, and yes, Jetpacks' debut album follows a big bunch of unwritten rules about how to meticulously construct an epic song, or an anthemic chorus, or whatever. But they've just taken good advice about how to get the most out of their songs, and most importantly, how to not be just another pedestrian indie-rock band.
The secret? Don't walk, run.