ast year, an obscure daytime program on BBC Two brought us the Mystery Jets. The host acted as though they’d stumbled upon but one of dozens of apparent non-Arctic non-Monkeys, and to see them on television was a jolt, then a thrill, to one’s independent senses. The whiff of “Top of the Pops” nostalgia accompanying the jolt was only a whiff, in a second vaporizing in the band’s crisp air. But to discover this debut, now released Stateside, is to hear a palimpsest of trends popular, independent and otherwise.
Last spring’s Making Dens was the fruit of the Jets’ labor. Zootime is the fruit, redistributed—same songs, new titles, minor glosses. To the U.S. audience I believe the album has a lot to offer, but only if we dare to claim better acclimatization to the Mystery Jets’ body of forebears and influence than the Brits do. Without speculating on the unnavigable, moody path of Anglophilia, it’s entirely likely that in this larger Stateside sphere, indie listeners are not in fact jaded but more accepting, in which case Zootime will fit snugly with the mottled pleasures of the Annuals, Shapes and Sizes, as well as suckers for Maximo Park or Air Traffic.
The messy chord progressions and little-man-lost vocals on “Purple Prose of Cairo” are quite different from the album’s opener, “Diamonds in the Dark,” but looking past the sparkle of “Dark”’s keyboards and powerful percussion, this music is not, at first, as wonderful as the bookish BBC might have imagined; it is, however, a kind of response to Brooklyn’s Vampire Weekend, both bands’ varied musical tastes building on a sturdy rock and punk foundation. The Jets’ torrential trip “Inside Four Walls” travels through the sunny sitars of the ’60s to the stocky drums of post-punk and the feverish, sometimes inventive guitar work of the Arctic Monkeys. The song’s undulating outro leads into another messy mix, “Scarecrows in the Rain.”
But the second half of the album holds quite a few treats. Even early on it was clear this was never going to be the crybaby dross of Keane or pointless drivel of Athlete. It is an energetic, powerful, and enjoyable album where occasionally pretty invention is marred by the suspicion that a hit-making producer is on deck. The songs, particularly “The Boy Who Ran Away,” are so well orchestrated as to be distracting; it can be hard to find the melodic story behind the song when the rhythms try so hard to make us feel that something ardent and urgent is going on. In the case of the “Boy,” there really isn’t much of a story—a boy simply “ran away from what he didn’t know.” But with the gorgeous piano horse-canter on “Soluble in Air,” the band describes their winning sound with just the title. The song takes us somewhere happily foggy and far away, its melodic touches giving us verdant pictures to contrast with the grays and blacks of the other punk whisperings.
It can be confusing, then, when the band resorts to the spooky guitar clicks and clucks of the Clash for “Crosswords”—the song’s intro had promised us so much with an entire orchestra of jittery, untraditional percussion. When the song goes all Radio 4 and tells us “And that’s why I love you more than any girl in town,” one can only hope that the winning girl professes a hatred for the whole post-punk thing and this song is just an ironic postscript tacked on a mostly memorable album.