We Were Promised Jetpacks – ‘The More I Sleep The Less I Dream’

By Gareth O'Malley

Sometimes a band has to retrace their steps to figure out where they’re headed; such was the case with Edinburgh’s We Were Promised Jetpacks. 2014’s ‘Unravelling’ had them temporarily expand to a quintet for that album cycle, but the departure of Stuart McGachan midway through touring that record was a significant speed bump for the band, who reverted to their original lineup — to wit, Adam Thompson (vocals/guitar); Michael Palmer (guitar); Sean Smith (bass); and Darren Lackie (drums) — rather than risk logistical headaches in replacing him. Down a member, sans record deal but still barrelling through shows at an alarming rate, the quartet soldiered on. Not having label backing was one thing, but the release of ‘The More I Sleep The Less I Dream’ was stalled by a much more pressing problem: the songs just weren’t cutting it.

Supporting Explosions in the Sky in Europe and Tokyo Police Club in the States in 2016, as well as playing their own US headline run, allowed them to road-test new material and figure out what worked and what didn’t. Revitalised, they put the album together before even hitting the studio, working with producer Jonathan Low to craft a 10-song album that pinballs between states of anxiety and catharsis. ‘Impossible’s’ opening instrumental salvo may seem serene, but a gradual swell of noise and Lackie’s rolling drum patterns hint at unease lurking below the surface, as Thompson laments opportunities lost (“We had our plans in the palm of our hands/Fall between our fingers”).

The themes of personal upheaval and soul-searching are prominent throughout a record that’s lyrically insular, with the spotlight firmly on Thompson as he and the rest of the band wrestle with the realities of entering their 30s. “We talk, and we talk, but there’s nothing new about me to report” he laments on ‘Someone Else’s Problem’ with the pained delivery of someone stuck in a rut and trying to work themselves out but unsure how to move forward; while the album’s penultimate track (current single ‘Repeating Patterns’) finds him second-guessing himself over an appropriately insistent, looping guitar line (“I poke myself in the eye just to check my vision”). Documenting experiences, Thompson declines to offer solutions; like most of us, he’s probably figuring it out as he goes along. That uncertainty is set against We Were Promised Jetpack’s most confident music yet.

‘The More I Sleep’ is full to the brim with the quartet’s trademark walls of sound, with ‘In Lightrefusing to settle on a clear song structure in favour of jagged bursts of melody and the bass-driven album centrepiece ‘Hanging In’ swaggering through its two verses before collapsing in on itself and completely changing tack, as Thompson and Palmer’s dual-guitar attack lifts the song skyward for a riff-driven denouement. The album’s title track, meanwhile, is the polar opposite; the prevailing mood approaches outright despair as it ends the album on a melodically powerful but lyrically sombre note. The expected payoff never quite arrives, its chilling refrain (“Mark my words, I’m nothing but a curse”) the sort that will haunt listeners for days and do a lot to suck them back in for additional listens of a record that, even by We Were Promised Jetpacks’s standards of melancholy, is particularly autumnal in its execution. It may have taken its time in arriving, but their fourth album crackles with the passion and enthusiasm of a band who have finally hit their stride. Let’s hope there’s no stopping them this time.

GARETH O’MALLEY

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