Band Review: Honest, Tragic Thundering – We Were Promised Jetpacks

This is the first article of many in a series describing the roots, origins, influences and the growth of bands that have taken the alternative music scene by storm. Bands such as alt-J, The National, Future Islands and others will be dealt with in this series. The first band discussed will be We Were Promised Jetpacks, known for its mastery of contrast in music and an uncanny power to describe its Scottish homeland.

You open your eyes, waking up to a loud noise, as if shocked from a dream state of which nightmares were the crux. Outside, the sky is dark, the sun hidden behind clouds filled with rain and even more, frightening things. Thunder shakes window, house and home. Flashes of light enlighten darkness. Rain clashes against glass. The sudden realisation that everything outside, all things too frightening, cannot harm you, for you are tucked away warm, with someone you hold dear beside you and the whole world at your feet. The evaporation of the nightly storm you just experienced and the fulfilled silence afterwards.

All these experiences are part of the music of We Were Promised Jetpacks. A band hailing from the cold reaches of Scotland, they succeed in musically portraying the harshness and the raw beauty of their homeland, the cold of the high mountains and the warmth of a small house with a fireplace, the thunder, the lightning and the calm after the storm. Their songs take you through tempests of sound, coupled with exciting drums that make you move, beautiful reverb guitar that stirs the heart and the strong, earnest voice of singer Adam Thompson. He sings of his house and home, preparing for winter, making human mistakes, growing older and he reminisces his youth.

While “These Four Walls”, the first album of We Were Promised Jetpacks, was filled with songs of many different types, several elements stand out. Usually the songs have a very strong build-up towards a tumultuous ending, through which the band members release all their energy and conviction. However, some songs truly revealed the direction the band was headed: songs like ‘Quiet Little Voices’ and ‘It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning’, with intense lyrics and exhilarating drumbeats that, when heard, will make everyone move, jump and dance. This could clearly be heard on the second album “In the Pit of the Stomach” where overdriven guitars added a rough edge to the already fairly robust guitar sound the band had, for example in the songs ‘Human Error’ and the magnificent ecstasy in the build-up in ‘Pear Tree’.

The latest of the bands three albums, “Unraveling”, released in October 2014, can be seen as the band’s attempt to move in a slightly different direction, with very experimental tracks such as ‘Piece of Mind’, a post-rockesque, six-minute, beautiful piece that, even without lyrics or singing of any kind, is able to move the soul. However, most songs have a darker undertone, such as ‘Disconnecting’, through which the murky piano notes behind the driven drums coupled with the enraged high-pitched voice of Thompson almost crescent into fury only to slowly recede to nothingness.

After having seen the band for the fifth time on Thursday the 19th, at the start of WWPJ’s new tour through Europe, I knew I had to write a tribute to this magnificent, but sadly fairly unknown band. The creativity and the musicality that this band portrays, their amazing live performances and the unique sound they bring is worth praising. Through their music, this band will make you feel homesick for Scotland and its high peaks, cold winter and the warmth of its people, even if you have never actually been there. I would encourage all who want to be moved to give We Were Promised Jetpacks a listen.

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