‘One of the most essential indie rock albums of recent years’
Dillon Eastoe
10:59 30th March 2020

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Since emerging as NME darlings in the mid-2000s, London’s Mystery Jets have undergone many stylistic shifts and a few fair lineup shuffles. Mastering indie-pop on Serotonin, dabbling in Americana while recording Radlands in Austin, and finally reaching for the stars on 2016’s Curve Of The Earth, these Mercury-nominated songwriters not only mature with each release but always take their craft in new directions as they grow.

A Billion Heartbeats marks a new chapter in Blaine Harrison’s songbook where he examines protest and kindness, but it’s one that’s taken a while to get going, as first a hospital stay for Blaine and now coronavirus have got in the way of the record’s release. Amongst these setbacks, founding member Will Rees announced his departure from the group.This week the album will finally be out online, over a full year since it was completed. 

If Curve Of The Earth felt like the work of a band that had reached their peak, the Jets have somehow upped the ante on A Billion Heartbeats. ‘Screwdriver’ riffs and rallies against the menace of the far-right, ‘History Has Its Eyes On You’ takes its serene inspiration from the Women’s Marches of 2017, and contains some of Blaine’s most arresting lyrics. If the current crisis has somewhat overtaken a few of the themes across the record in terms of significance, these ten songs paint a vivid picture of Britain’s post-referendum and pre-pandemic psyche. 

The title track rides on a galloping chorus straight off Serotonin, and would win the ‘Best Key Change’ award if not for the stunning finale to ‘Campfire Song’, troubled verses unfurling into a defiant chorus that leaps a full tone for its last outing. The vocal implores people to keep the fire of their convictions burning into adulthood, starting from Blaine’s own experience of protesting the Iraq War in 2003. It’s hard not to be caught up in the band’s urgent performance, clever writing and the surges of pathos that hold the record together. ‘Hospital Radio’ shoulders the weight of its pertinence, Blaine’s woozy love-song to the NHS given extra weight following his own illness and our current COVID-19 predicament.

After the airy expanse of Curve Of The Earth everything here feels direct, Blaine’s vocals piercing through a thwack of guitar while bassist Jack Flanagan and drummer Kapil Travedi clatter their instruments with power and precision.

At track nine the Jets have somehow topped themselves to write the most massive, stratospheric chorus of the bunch: “If you call out we’ll be here, you can’t help feeling weird, watching yourself slowly disappear.” Born of the tragedy of Scott Hutchison’s passing in 2018, ‘Watching Yourself Slowly Disappear’ is a soaring plea to hold on and find help and to reach out to those in need. ‘Wrong Side of the Tracks’ closes things out with a tribute to youth climate strikers, many of whom are being targeted online by the right. “Never forget we’re not like the other kids, all we ever wanted was to make the needle skip.” 

Cruelly robbed of a victory lap across the UK by multiple delays, this shouldn’t obscure the fact that Mystery Jets have recorded one of the most essential indie rock albums of recent years. Born from solidarity and protest, Mystery Jets have crafted if not their quintessential then certainly their finest collection of songs to date.

A Billion Heartbeats is released on 3 April 2020 via Caroline International.

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