Album Review: Mystery Jets – Curve of the Earth

By on Wednesday, 13th January 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Mystery Jets Curve of the Earth album coverAs I alluded to in my review of early album teaser ‘Telomere’ late last year, Mystery Jets’ journey to this exact place in time hasn’t been via a straight line. ‘Radlands’, their fourth studio album released in 2012, totally threw me for a loop: it seemed the band’s best attempt to sound as un-British and as much American as they could. After the nearly nonstop corkerfest ‘Serotonin’ in 2010, it was a jarringly hard listen. While Mystery Jets’ return with 2016’s ‘Curve of the Earth’ isn’t a return to form to their ‘Twenty-One’ days – I’m not suggesting that’s what I am looking for, as they’ve gotten older and matured, so it makes sense they’ve moved on from their Noughties-era sound – the lack of definitive pop hits is, to me, a problem.

However, if this NME news item is to be believed and indeed, prog legends Pink Floyd and King Crimson served as primary influences for ‘Curve of the Earth’, then in the grand scheme of things, this all makes sense. Basically, this album makes you feel like you’ve gotten stuck in a ‘70s time warp, and there’s a definite sense that it’s all been done before. (For example, ‘The End Up‘ feels like a strange Mystery Jets song déjà vu, until it closes the album with an unnecessarily extended, dream proggy outro.) Some people love this sort of thing – remember how Pete Best was remembered: “mean, moody and magnificent” – and I think it has a good shot of selling well. I just don’t see it appealing to everyone.

‘Bombay Blue’ falls somewhere between easy listening of the ‘70s (‘Radlands’ itself was described as the Jets doing the Eagles) and ‘80s. It’s nothing objectionable; in fact, I give them props for not falling into the lo-fi, psychedelic trap of Tame Impala and DIIV that seems to be informing nearly every new band these days. But it’s mostly a continuous, one-colour palette of grey that rarely goes out of its comfort zone. Midpoint tune ‘1985’ scores points for bringing up the energy, ever so slightly halfway through, otherwise following a similar path. As you’re listening to this collection of nine songs, you’re left wondering what might have been if the band were given a jolt of caffeine or Red Bull. Or maybe put under a sun lamp? The disused button factor in East London where the group purportedly recorded this album appears to not have done them any favours.

‘Taken by the Tide’ is the most surprising track in this collection: it has a sweeping kind of grandeur, but the second half is completely overtaken by a grungy bass guitar. A weird kind of cacophonous loudness is also in conflict with Blaine Harrison’s lead vocals, which have been noted through the years as being more emotional and thoughtful than raucous. Yet, finally, it’s great to get some real energy! (That elegiac organ on the end? Oh…) They’ve noted that ‘Curve of the Earth’ is their most personal work to date, so are these warring factions representative of their own internal struggles? The number that follows it, ‘Saturnine’, seems to have been written for the current astrological cycle we’re dealing with at this very moment, Saturn in Sagittarius. It’s supposed to be a time of philosophical, inward-turning thought, and William Rees’ lyrics reflect this in a lover’s unavailability: “your world is turning, I can feel it turning away/ I turn towards you, but you seem so far away.”

The closest the band get to pop on the album is, appropriately, on a song called ‘Bubblegum’. It’s a mildly upbeat number whose synthesiser lines remind me oddly of a cross between Springsteen and Dire Straits’ ‘Walk Of Life’, except less overtly happy and more on an inspirational bent, though with less than poetic verse (“on the sidewalks of my street” repeated, “we will disappear to two different sides / then I hope that the world in which you find / yourself in is better than the one you leave behind”). Another attempt at pop is in ‘Midnight’s Mirror’, in which the oozy woozy quality of dream pop is explored. Unfortunately, beyond the song’s most prominent quality, its crunchy percussion, there isn’t much else to hold your attention.

Probably the song on this album that might have benefitted most from a rework is ‘Blood Red Balloon’. Its repetitive synth lines are anything but mesmerising, sounding more appropriate for a video game, and with the dreamy vocals overlaid on top, the efforts seem confused. The jaunty guitar in the bridge should have been taken advantage more fully, as should have the lead guitar in the second half of the song. Opportunities missed. Hopefully with an appropriate backline, the songs of ‘Curve of the Earth’ will translate better and will be proffered with more oomph in a live environment. With an appearance at the Great Escape 2016 already announced ahead of summer festival season, there will be plenty of chance to see if this turns out to be true.

6/10

Mystery Jets’ fifth studio album ‘Curve of the Earth’ will be released this Friday, the 15th of January, on Caroline International. The band have already announced live appearances in the UK and Ireland in January and February and a high-profile slot at The Great Escape 2016 in Brighton in May, with many more similar types of announcements to come, I’m sure.

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