Jettie: Kites for Charity

[20 January 2008]

By Chris Baynes

If you were to compile a list of rock ‘n’ roll band names, it’s fairly certain that, some way below the Metallicas and Napalm Deaths of this world, Jettie would lie reasonably far from the top. Which is perfectly fine, really, because to call Jettie a ‘rock’ band, as such, would be stretching the definition of said genre to within breaking point, and to attribute such a title would almost certainly require the precursor of ‘soft’. The band’s music is neither visceral nor vivacious; it is the wistful soundtrack to a wet, hazy day you’d rather forget, and would in any case have trouble remembering even if you desired to do so. The musical equivalent of an airport bookshop, Kites for Charity is a mild diversion for a rainy day or a lonesome long-haul journey—ultimately forgettably humdrum.

In other words, it’s not all that exciting. As you might expect from a band whose press release compares them to REM and whose music is at times audibly influenced by U2 (“The Lay Up”‘s introductory riff is a dead ringer for the Edge’s now-scorned guitar stylings), Jettie peddles inoffensive indie pop, melodically sweet at times, but ultimately pedestrian. The Swedish two-piece (though augmented with countless collaborators—there ain’t no White Stripes-esque minimalism here) has an ear for a tune, undeniably, and in particular for big choruses, but is not so refined when it comes to invention and excitement. The songs, as seems to be par for the course for Scandinavian indie bands, shimmer prettily in an ethereal sort of way, and are far from deficient when it comes to melody or passion, yet too often tend to glide in one ear and promptly out the other, making little or no attempt to take up residence in the locale in between.

Not that there’s anything seriously wrong with Kites for Charity; it’s a perfectly pleasant pop record. It’s just that it’s nowhere near stimulating enough to make a mark on the listener in any meaningful way. At its best, as on opener “Start/Stop”, it is delicately pretty, the powerful choruses and striking melodies at least nice, if not massively impressive. At its worst, like plodding pop-rocker “Sophia”, it is just dull. Either way, it’s difficult to see Kites for Charity having the sufficient impact to guide many fingers back towards the ‘play’ button.

Too often, also, the songs on Kites for Charity follow the same, repeated pattern. A shimmery, reverb-drenched burst of energy opens most tracks, before subsiding to make room for Clas Bohman’s wistful, throaty sighs. Cue bridge, powerful chorus, and then repeat. Even if each and every track here was a grand, breathtaking epic—which they are not—this would be monotonous. As it is, it’s difficult to sustain interest for the full forty-five minutes.

This lack of variety is not just confined to song structures, however. The instrumentation is similarly plagued, all simple guitar arpeggios with a little distortion and a lot of reverb. While it is befitting of the pensive melancholy of Bohman’s lyrics, and moulds together well with the ethereal keys when they come into play, the over-reliance on this style is suggestive of a band unable to change gear. And then there’s Bohman himself, perpetually immersed in a sort of nostalgic abstraction. His vocals—a curious midpoint between Bono, Feeder’s Grant Nicholas, and emo-pop pioneer Jonah—are suitably airy at times, but their gravelly nature can tend to grate. This is particularly frustrating when closer “Letter Carrier” shows Bohman to be capable of more grace and beauty than the rasp which pervades over much of Kites for Charity.

All in all it’s an unfulfilling affair. Kites for Charity isn’t an awful album by any means, but it is one far too lacking in invention, and in particular thrills, to inspire anything more than a passing nod of recognition to the songsmanship at play here, and even that is tarnished somewhat by repetition and an over-polished sheen of production.  To dismiss Kites for Charity wholesale would be unfair; there is undoubtedly a market for a band like Jettie, and for its arpeggiated pleasantries, bountiful hooks, and chorus lines. Indeed, given enough financial backing and sufficient time to mature and expand, you can see Jettie filling out some fairly sizeable venues. Just don’t count on this scribe being amongst the audience.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/jettie-kites-for-charity/