We Were Promised Jetpacks are all grown up now. They’ve added multi-instrumentalist Stuart McGachan to the lineup, and the Scottish band’s third full-length, Unravelling, might be their strongest work yet. They’re still marrying the disappointment and disillusion of their name to an uncanny ear for big guitar hooks and pounding drums, but their sound is bigger and broader. On first single “I Keep It Composed” WWPJ are at their Interpol-dark best, with an arena-sized chorus; leadoff track “Safety in Numbers” offers moody, wintry imagery over urgent, dramatic rock. The latter begins in unexpected fashion: with an echo of the krautrock of 1970s Tangerine Dream. It’s the first of many surprises that keep Unravelling interesting. Others include the melodic piano riff that somehow cuts through the layers of guitars in “Peace Sign,” and the tolling piano (doubled by guitar) on “Ricochet.” “Night Terror” begins with a rhythm out of the Jah Wobble or Talking Heads playbook. And one of the album’s most striking songs, “Disconnecting,” is built around a series of piano chords that’s as ominous as anything on the record. Adam Thompson’s vocals are eerily processed and gathering bursts of guitar add to the mood.
Like their labelmates the Twilight Sad, WWPJ have a knack for inexorably building a song into something cathartic and darkly cinematic. “Bright Minds” begins as a fairly easygoing tune before the band unleashes its post-rock mayhem, and “Moral Compass” floats along over sustained organ chords with the distant threat of guitars rumbling in the background until the squall finally breaks through. The band also offers an instrumental track, “Peace of Mind,” that begins in a standard 4/4 before switching suddenly to a lilting 6/8, with glittering guitar work reminiscent of Bloc Party’s “So Here We Are.” Bigger isn’t always better, but in this case, WWPJ’s move from quartet to quintet has reaped immediate rewards.