It’s important to change direction sometimes. Like if you are on a collision course for a planet, for instance. And frankly. deviations from the considered trajectory are sometimes really the very best thing a band can do. The Mystery Jets haven’t just changed direction from their synthy-pop flight path of their last two records (and the excellent After Dark dance-floor filler contribution to Count & Sinden’s Mega Mega Mega) – they’ve quite literally donned parachutes and jettisoned themselves in Austin Texas to make a record dripping in Americana.
But, wait. Unroll those predictable eyes, oh thee naysayer, because, actually, factually they’ve gone and done it impeccably. Like for reals. Transporting themselves from their origins on Eel Pie Island (yes, for real they are from a small island on the River Thames only accessible by footbridge or small boat) to the shore or the Colorado River in a country house in the Westlake area in Austin, Texas to write and record the sessions for this, their fourth/five album (it depends if you count the US only release of Zootime).
Opening with title-track Radlands which comes across as a mammoth statement of intent; rollocking as much as it swings; shit there’s steel guitars by the end. Yep. They are definitely in Texas, we got that; loud and clear; “I went to the dessert ‘cos I wanted to find my pistol” frontman Blaine Harrison considers in You Had Me At Hello – which by the time cracks into it’s chorus is beautifully AM radio Neil Youngsy; the bassline trickles like a near-dryed creek a the rugged western wasteland in contrast to the ‘Don’t worry your sweet lil’ head about it’ assurance. But they are still the Mystery Jets and an English indie-pop band and they do well to remind us of that by track three Someone Purer.
On Greatest Hits – a single in waiting methinks; Belle & Sebastian at their best are recalled (actually quite literally) and it’s honestly just sheer brilliance. Whoo-oo-oos, sha-la-las, ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ and something almost Bonanza happens. I love it. “Are you still listening Mark E Smith?” this is followed closely by another personal favorite – sounding a bit like if Of Montreal were called Of Appalachia. But in a really, really good way.
The story goes that “Sister Everett” is based on the band’s experience in meeting a missionary from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on the plane ride over to Texas; and her attempt to convert band member William Rees – the track segues from alt-indie-country squall to a beautifully soulful choral arrangement – which sparkles as another album highlight; which itself segues seamlessly into the laziness of Lost in Austin; sounding like a being late in the afternoon spent exploring; before closing with a Gram Parsons-esque Luminesemce.
There’s sniffs that this may well be the end of the Mystery Jets though – bassist and co-vocalist Kai Fish, ; while there for the making of the record has since announced his departure after last years solo project “Life In Monochrome”. We shall have to see what happens next; in the meantime I strongly recommend checking this new direction out – even it it transpires to be their dead-end. - review by Andrew Tidball