There’s an irresistible sort of playfulness to Stolen Jars’ newest album Kept. It’s there right from the beginning, in the unfathomable time signature of opening track ‘Waves’, showcasing that fun mixture between complex, anarchic rhythms and gentle instrumentation made popular by the likes of Alt-J and Bombay Bicycle Club. It gives the album a messy, homemade quality that’s impossible not to like.
The album’s a bit of a slow builder: the first two tracks are sweet indie pop in their own right – all toned-down melodies and lethargic vocals – but without a great deal of energy to kick things off. Things soon pick up pace with a burst of energy in ‘Another November’, introducing an almost tribal drum beat that contrasts nicely with Molly Grund’s gentle vocals and whimsical lyrics about donkey’s noses, and fading out on a nice little hook: ‘If I am warm let me warm you’.
It’s the recurrence of these drums that really lifts the tone of the album. The band knows exactly how to put them to good use, particularly in ‘Glow’, where this tribal rhythm is balanced with sharp lyrics about being young and in love, creating a track that captures an everyday sort of elation. It’s a great slow build of a song – although you could argue it doesn’t quite deliver on what it builds up to.
If there’s any real flaw to be found in this album, it’s that a lot of the tracks – strong as they may be– can’t help but sound a little similar. ‘Folded Out’ is the worst offender: it’s not a bad song by any means, with a particularly nice slowed-down middle eight, but it’s just a little too much of the same thing when a change of scenery would have been welcome.
Luckily, there’s a few wildcards thrown in to stop things becoming too repetitive. ‘Wreaths Rakes’ chucks a bit of Spanish-esque guitar weirdness into the mix , seemingly just for the fun factor, accompanied by a clapping rhythm that seems like its egging you on to dance.
There’s also a subtle change of direction after the instrumental interlude ‘Still He Held us, Covered’. ‘Bright Red’ is a less a party anthem, and more a soundtrack to a come-down, perfectly capturing that worn-out, melancholic kind of happiness that comes with the waning few hours of a party. Things seem to get a touch darker as the album comes to a close: ‘For Dan’ is a softer, more personal track, with its gently mournful lyrics, ‘I hate these towns’, and haunting harmonies. ‘Wheel’, meanwhile, steadily grows into something angrier and more defiant than anything else on the album, the drums becoming properly aggressive for the first time. Even through all this, that essential playful quality is never quite lost.
It’s this fundamental sense of playfulness that makes Kept what it is. It’s an album that feels fresh, experimental, and unashamedly fun: Stolen Jars have found a winning formula, and, when it works, it makes some great indie pop.