Last year, I told you all about the Mystery Jets and their debut album, Making Dens. In fact, I was so charmed by the album, we essentially chastised you for not owning it by including it in our `Perversity’ series. All this despite the fact that it was only available as an import. It quite often bites when American labels drag their feet in making a home for overseas bands, usually making us wait six months to a year before the album finally sees the light of a stateside day. But in the case of the Mystery Jets, it might have been a godsend. Like a painter who just can’t put down the brush or a novelist who continues to work on his twenty-sixth draft, the Mystery Jets tinkered with an album that was already by any standards great and made it even better. Zootime is their `reworked’ American debut, taking the best tracks from their UK introductory album, adding a few remixes and a handful of tracks from a couple of singles and EP’s.
The Eel Pie Island boys who make up Mystery Jets (yes, that’s actually the name of their hometown) are quite fresh-faced and young, that is except for that grizzled dude playing guitar. What’s up with that, you may be asking. Well, guitarist Henry Harrison is the father of vocalist and keyboardist Blaine Harrison! There’s no way for any review of this band to not include this fact as it’s such a rarity, especially in a band that sounds this angular. Dad’s prog influences work their way in at times, which gives their music an added dimension not often found in most of today’s acts. I just can’t imagine the conversations on the road. I mean, can you picture young Blaine asking permission to eat a cheeseburger off of the stomach of a hot little groupie? I suppose it might be even more ridiculous if the response were, “not until you finish your homework.”
If you haven’t been initiated to the music of the Mystery Jets previously, the requisite songs are here including the catchy singles, “You Can’t Fool Me Dennis” and “The Boy Who Ran Away.” But it’s the additional songs not found on Making Dens that will surprise you. The Stephen Street produced “Diamonds in the Dark,” and the brilliant b-sides and remixed album tracks “Crosswords,” “Umbrellahead” and the Syd Barrett tribute “Scarecrows in the Rain” (which also sounds somewhat Robert Smith influenced), all helmed by Erol Alkan. (Some of you might know Alkan as a remixer for Death From Above 1979, Bloc Party and Hot Chip as well as being the man behind the mash-up of “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and “Blue Monday.”)
I also found that listening to the Mystery Jets over time can yield decidedly different results. While I was initially taken in by their `Franz Ferdinand-y’ singles, now I find myself entranced by their more complex tunes like the title track from this album, which also happens to be their first single. “Little Bag of Hair” and “Purple Prose of Cairo” had the same effect, eliciting more appreciation for abrupt changes and eclectic styles within each song. Much can also be said for Blaine’s dramatic vocals, veering between the aforementioned Robert Smith, Kele Okereke and yes, sometimes even Bob Dylan. Rather than sounding like an amateur act trying to find their footing, Mystery Jets display the confidence, charisma and experience not often found with debuts. Maybe it’s due to the fact that Zootime isn’t a technical first album or to the guidance of a father figure, either way, if you didn’t listen to me the first time around, listen now.