Release Date: Jan 15, 2016
Record label: Caroline
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Three years in the making, the London-based neo-psych-rockers fifth studio long player, and first with new bassist Jack Flanagan, is a sumptuous distillation of the myriad styles that Mystery Jets have been weaving in and out of over the years, from the proggy post-punk of Making Dens and Zootime to the open road Americana of Radlands. Always an inward looking, albeit reliably quirky gang of retro-casters, Curve of the Earth finds the Jets assessing their place in the universe via nine incrementally protracted set pieces that invoke Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips, early Radiohead, and of course, Pink Floyd. Self-produced in a homespun studio in an abandoned button factory, Curve of the Earth wastes little time in setting the controls for the heart of the sun with the lead single "Telomare," a big, atmospheric blast of anthemic, mid-'90s stadium rock that segues nicely into the equally dreamy "Bombay Blue.
British guitar bands are often criticised for their lack of ambition. With good reason, too – turn on any radio station and you will be confronted with at least one band who have been in existence for two decades or more, and steadfastly refuse to budge beyond the square musical meal they were eating in the 1990s. This is all fine for listeners who like their music predictable and relatively safe, but doesn’t say much about the acts’ standing as artists with imagination, craft and the desire to add more human elements to their music.
Inspiration can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Amidst an assortment of abandoned buttons in a former button factory, Mystery Jets have recorded their most ambitious work to date with album number five. Stirring opener ‘Telomere’ sees frontman Blaine Harrison rivalling Matt Bellamy with his profound musings. Singing of an oppressive, opposing force in a style reminiscent of the Muse leader, he chillingly describes “the people walking down below, crawling home alone like spiders as the cancer slowly starts to grow”.
For me, the best of the Mystery Jets has always been found in their portraits of adolescent life: love, lust and school. There's such an easy charm about the vocals of Blaine Harrison and Will Rees, probably due to the boyish tones of the pair's blurred delivery, that when we hear about their infatuation with a girl because she plays the drums, but they're "too shy to work the courage up" to approach her, it's worth a knowing nod and ruffle of the hair rather than pity or ridicule. On Curve of the Earth, Harrison's perspective is now that of a fully grown man who sees "no point in just churning out another record".
Mystery Jets have been a staple of the British indie scene for a decade and more now. It’s nigh on impossible to go through a British summer and not see their name on the bill of seemingly every festival – from the corporate behemoths to those that are little more than a party in a mate's garden. Their secret to longevity, now that we have long since passed the moment of ‘peak-indie’ in the mid noughties, lies in the band’s ability to try different styles of guitar-based music whilst not straying so far from the path that they lose everything that makes them distinctive.
Mystery Jets may hail from England, but as their career has spanned over five albums, they've begun to sound more and more American, and their latest record Curve of the Earth is the next step in their progression towards Yankee assimilation. 2012's Radlands was an odd blend of Cool Britannia and good ol' fashioned Americana—imagine four scrawny British lads in oversized cowboy boots and 10-gallon hats and you'll come to grips with the cognitive dissonance of listening to the album. On Curve of the Earth that country twang is a distant memory (only hinted at by the occasional wisp of a slide guitar), now eclipsed by the emotional maturity and ambitious swell of their latest effort.
Those firing into Curve of the Earth expecting the same twinkly-eyed, danceable indie-pop as their seminal debut Making Dens (some ten years later, would you believe it) will need to cool their jets, so to speak. More slowly paced, and more sincere, Mystery Jets have matured out of that tricky mid-noughties adolescence. Blood Red Balloon stands out as the clearest demonstration of their 70s influences, with infectious harmonies, guitar solos and a well considered structure, while Midnight's Mirror’s sexy basslines will seduce even the most casual listener.
For the past decade, Mystery Jets have proven expert imitators, churning out quirky approximations of The Cars, Radiohead and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. But the UK quartet upped the derivative ante with 2012’s Radlands, a semi-concept LP—featuring characters named Emmerson Lonestar and Sister Everett—which they crafted in a Texas rental house to breathe in that genu-wine Yankee dust. Overall, an awkward (if charming) digression that landed closer to parody than pastiche.
Mystery Jets have spent most of the past three years since their previous album holed up in an old button factory, recording, what they’ve described as, their most personal release to date. It’s certainly a powerful record, layer upon layer of vocals, synth, guitars (at one point – near the climax of Bubblegum – it sounds as though there’s a bagpipe in there, but there can’t be, can there?). Make no bones about it, this is a big album – stadium big, in fact.
Mystery Jets’ last album, 2012’s Radlands, signalled a move towards 1980s-style AOR soft rock, and now Curve of the Earth, their sixth, edges further into mainstream Americana. Instead of the endearing idiosyncrasies that characterised their earliest records 10 years ago, we have the crunching chords of Taken By the Tide’s mega-chorus and the plaintive vocals and morse-code guitar of Telomere. But there are flashes of brilliance.
Despite breaking through a decade ago alongside fellow Thamesbeat trailblazers Jamie T and Larrikin Love, Mystery Jets have actually been a band for 20 years. It all started when a pre-teen Blaine Harrison – now aged 30 – started making a racket with his dad Henry in Twickenham’s foremost enclave of odd, Eel Pie Island. Since releasing 2006’s screwball guitar-pop debut ‘Making Dens’ they’ve been a leftfield force in British indie – funnelling the weirdness of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and the pop sensibility of the Kinks into their always distinct sound.
In spite of the usual lull of a new year, this January, in particular, was jam-packed with loads of exciting releases that cover a whole gamut of styles and attitudes. Sometimes we just don't have the time and resources to cover them all, but that doesn't mean we're always listening. Below are some records that just couldn't be left ignored. ...