I’ve had a hot-and-cold relationship with Mystery Jets. More than half of their songs warrant repeat listens, but they’ve also got some ponderous, wandering clunkers. They’re more adventurous (and often less raucous) than standard Britpoppunk, but adventurous can sometimes lead to experimentation, which can sometimes fail. At least it did on their first album. But “21” is the rare example of a sophomore album that far exceeds its predecessor.

“21” pops, bursts, and explodes. It alternates bright affection with moody introspection, but delivers every song with boundless enthusiasm. “Young Love,” with Laura Marling on vocals, is scary catchy. It’s got a hooky, bouncy bassline, wonderful refrain, and the kind of summer-sun lyrics that sound familiar at first listen. “Half in Love With Elizabeth” is part Arctic Monkeys, part Beatles, mixing scrappy grime with beautiful harmonies and crystal clear pop. You have to hear it to understand. The wintry “Flakes” represents the downtempo MJs: A wailing, mournful chorus over guitars that in the hands of another band might be shoegazey, but here, they’re just perfect. Lyrically, the band has grown as well—speaking maturely about love and rejection in choruses (“If I only knew your name, I’d go from door to door”) and verses alike (“Turn away if you must/But how can you put your trust/In a man who always sleeps in his clothes”).

21 is produced by electronica star D.J. Erol Alkan, but he keeps his remix/dance influence to a minimum here, getting the band a bigger sound (and wisely emphasizing the extraordinary bass guitar work) without sacrificing their organic, indie sound.

No, not every track is a pristine winner, but enough of them are to make this album one of the top releases I’ve hear this year.

Half in Love With Elizabeth

Bonus cuts!

One (Blake’s Got a New Face) (Vampire Weekend cover, with Natty)

Pioneers (Bloc Party Cover)


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