An album with refreshingly little in the way of PR preamble to introduce it, and thank God for that, all I knew before my first listen was that with The Ceiling, JAWS were recording with Gethin Pearson, the same producer behind 2016's Simplicity – an album which was exactly that, pure and simple dream pop. Not overcomplicated or overwrought, it was "does what it says on the tin" dream pop. I also knew that this latest record was a leap forward for the band musically speaking, and that frontman Connor Schofield described the sound of it as "[going] down paths we haven't taken before", centred around lyrics painting a picture of "generally...feeling a bit lost". If JAWS were dream pop before, I am delighted to tell you that now they're fully delirious.
The Ceiling confidently undulates between triumphantly dreamy, shimmering and eminently danceable near-pop – the bread and butter of the likes of current era Two Door Cinema Club, along with Friendly Fires, or even Delphic – and hazy, slower paced numbers. It shouldn't work, but absolutely does. ‘Do You Remember’ is perhaps the strongest example of this, with a grungy riff giving way to the clean, dreamy sound that has become such a JAWS staple. 'Do You Remember’ is absolutely all over the place in terms of influences and cohesion, there's no denying that – it's like a song from a completely different band. It's a song destined for inclusion in a 00s-era racing game that can never be, a reference that maybe a quarter of Gigwise's audience will actually appreciate. And yet still, it works.
We transition from that track, to ‘Fear’, and the very first note I wrote while listening to this was "where are we now?". The guitar is mixed way to the back, and now JAWS are channelling I See You-era The xx – dreamy, ringing guitar with a thumping back beat, layered with texture and intrigue from otherworldly percussion and vocal samples. Schofield singing "I've got nothing to fear" before a breakdown lifted straight from Jamie xx's playbook is something I'm somehow completely happy to accept, whether it's tongue-in-cheek or not. The tone of this review is one of incredulity, I realise that, but against a backdrop of recent reviews where ambition hasn't quite landed for one reason and another (the weight of expectation in American Football's case, and not being quite ambitious enough in Benjamin Francis Leftwich's case), The Ceiling shines.
‘End of the World’ kicks into a different gear entirely, slowing things down and taking a contemplative tone without losing momentum. It builds to, and I realise I'm name-checking a lot of other bands here, an early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club-style crescendo – hazy, distorted with blown-out vocals layered over the top. The first 30 seconds of ‘End of the World’ are poles apart from its closing 30 seconds, but why on Earth not?
Speaking of "why on Earth not?", ‘Patience’ opens with a flute intro, because of course it does. It's a fascinating song because it sounds like a DJ sampling JAWS rather than a true-blue JAWS release of their own volition. If we were verging on dance numbers in the album up to this point, we're well and truly there in ‘Patience’ and there’s some serious shades of Friendly Fires here.
‘Looking/Passing’ is the most grounded and traditionally JAWS song on the entire album. It is a song that, quite literally, mentions stopping for a second and taking it in, setting the stage for ‘The Ceiling’ – which we will come to later – and ‘Please Be Kind’, a celebratory, victory lap of a song that I'm amazed isn't the final track on the album. It brings things to a close perfectly, practically daring you to head straight back to the start all over again.
‘January’ is the one bum note of the album, a slightly misjudged acoustic number that sounds more demo or bonus track than anything else. The production is raw, completely at odds with the rest of the album – with Schofield's voice sounding even more distant than usual. The one miss of The Ceiling, then, but they're allowed just the one.
The Ceiling is an album overflowing with ideas. It is no wonder that the ringing chorus of the title track is "Just keep going, there’s no ceiling", because you can well and truly feel that in the very fibre of this album's being. It is an oversaturated, almost overwhelming album that flexes muscles you didn't know that JAWS had. They explore different ideas and cast them aside with such speed that you never get a chance to really think about what worked and what didn't. Rest assured, there are more hits than misses here, JAWS have broken the dream pop shackles that have served them so well up until now, and are carving their own delirious path forward.
The Ceiling is released on 5 April 2019.