On Second Listen: Mystery Jets – Twenty One

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    Mystery Jets’ Twenty One is an album for “lovers.” It’s geared towards those in relationships, those who want one, the ones who wish for one, and even the ones that dwell on past relationships. Also, these “lovers” should probably like intelligent pop music, the 1980s, independent music, strong British accents, and well-written lyrics.

    After spending time working on remixes for the likes of Bloc Party, Hot Chip, Daft Punk, and Klaxons, on top of being a busy DJ, Erol Alkan has produced two albums so far in 2008. One was ‘Couples’ by The Long Blondes and it featured a distinct combination of the bands’ already existing talents and a nostalgic 80’s sound. The other album he produced is Twenty One, and it does a similar thing.

    For the uninformed, Mystery Jets is a four-piece band from the Indie Music Isles. For the most part, the band is straight up pop, but differentiates itself from other similar acts by being almost Rain Man-esque in its skill for knowing what is good. Twenty One draws influences from everything from Krautrock to intelligent 80’s pop like The Cure. Hell, in the past the band has even gone so far as putting on a Syd Barrett tribute show, so its influences obviously run deep. To really seal the deal, Mystery Jets’ early work was also produced by another super-DJ, Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford.


    Twenty One opens with one of the more cliché sounds in music today, the air horn. Even so, the rest of “Hideaway” is one of the musically heavier songs on the album. It balances nicely with the lyrics that revolve around cheating and the drama associated with it. The album’s biggest single, “Young Love”, features rising music starlet Laura Marling and is one of those ‘happy songs.’ In other words, it has a sing-a-long chorus, flawless percussion, and saccharine lyrics that revolve around looking for that lost love.

    “Half in Love with Elizabeth” continues the really strong stretch at the beginning of the album. The song, like many on the album, does a great job of involving the 80’s sound without it really even being noticed to the unaware listener. There’s also some harmonic background vocals, a deep bass line, and some synth lines that match very well with lyrics like, “But how can you put your trust in a man who always sleeps in his clothes?”

    Songs like “Flakes” and “Umbrellahead” seem to be more affected by the band trying to push its style to the edge. “Flakes” has a 1960’s pop feeling and is more of that breakup ballad song for the broken-hearted. “Umbrellahead” features sounds straight out of an old Western (distinct piano and string arrangements) and lyrics that deal with not wanting to grow old. “Hand Me Down” unleashes an attack on women who sleep around with lyrics like “Is it ‘cause you daddy was never around?” but the band mellows it out with some well-placed pop guitar sounds.


    The standout track on the album for many listeners is the song “Two Doors Down”. The music brings out the best memories from those John Hughes films seen over here in America. It features that xylophone style synthesizer sound, saxophone and horn sections, and vocals that bring Robert Smith to mind. Again, the lyrics delve into the “love” territory. The story of the song is about being in love with a neighbor and debating on what to do about it. While not rewriting the book on relationship songs, the woman in question plays drums and likes to dance to Marquee Moon, so the band clearly still identifies talent in everyone.

    Twenty One is a top-notch album and is clearly a “lovers” album for the late 2000’s. Its 1980’s inspired music tries a little something different and balances out well with all the other 80’s sounding bands that clutter the music scene. The lyrics take it away from the 1980’s cheesiness and moves it into love song cheesiness. The intelligence of the songs in both music and lyrics moves those songs about love into the modern day and shows the range of the group. Erol Alkan’s growth as a producer is also shown in his ability to move away from the harder dance remixes he is known for. Overall, this album evokes moods and emotions and while not all the songs are great or memorable, everyone needs to hear a song about love and loss every once in awhile, so why not the Mystery Jets?

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