A running theme with early January releases is that there tends to be a reason they’re put out at this time. Typically it’s a result of opportunism, either from bands who want to avoid the rush of later in the year and go by their business unencumbered, or from labels with little faith in said release who want to cut their losses and have it effectively forgotten by year’s end. To be fair, the former has become less common with the speed that the music industry has begun to move at even just in the last few years, but it’s hard to imagine The Just Joans being a product of the latter either. They’re by no means the biggest band in the world, but their evolution from a duo consisting of siblings David and Katie Pope into a full sextet is often cited as an unmistakable evolution for them, and a number of albums demonstrating twee but unfailingly endearing indie-pop brimming with layering and wit have been testament to just how far they’ve come. Thus, with their fourth full-length The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of The Just Joans, any major worries seem to be a bit irrational; up to now the band haven’t shown anything to be overly concerned about, and any apprehension does mostly seem to be a product of the baked-in uncertainty emblematic of early-year releases.
It’s funny as well, because The Private Memoirs… does indeed bear a lot of the hallmarks of an early January release – it’s generally understated and small-scale without a lot to really wow, but in a nice change of pace, none of that is too detrimental. The Just Joans’ particular brand of indie-pop does draw a lot of comparisons a scaled-back Art Brut or Belle And Sebastian, and embracing that quirkiness alongside a very tight constructive process makes The Private Memoirs… the sort of quaint listen that isn’t promising too much, but uses that to deliver a good amount to like all the same.
A lot of that comes from The Just Joans delivering exactly the sort of thing that this slightly older type of indie-pop excels at, namely achieving a good balance between the onset cynicism that comes with age and the band’s own Scottish heritage, and the smatterings of humour and lightness to temper it and keep anything too bleak at bay. My Undying Love For You Is Beginning To Die and The One I Loathe The Least might smack of a curmudgeonly Smiths-esque quality from their titles alone, but the almost whimsical word choices in the writing keep the tone slightly lighter and shunts it away from drowning in an unearned gloom. It’s what keeps the pop song composition light but not throwaway, and the writing is regularly substantive enough to follow suit; Who Does Susan Think She Is? might seem fairly comedic on the surface about an old friend looking to broaden their horizons to presumably fit in with an advancing world, but there’s the undercurrent of melancholy as Katie Pope wonders if, even after it all, they are still friends. There’s a similar sense of uncertainty that comes with moving further in life on Dear Diary, I Died Again Today and The Older I Get, The More I Don’t Know, but appearing in the same vicinity as the likes of Hey Ho Let’s Not Go and Holiday shows that keeping it light is high up on The Just Joans’ list of priorities, and it works for them. It’s not a deep purge but it doesn’t feel as though it’s supposed to be, and regardless of the album’s title, that’s probably the best option.
It’s a similar case with the instrumentation, and how a lot of the lighter tones and quirkier, slightly kitschier sonic choices are able to bend themselves to convey whatever mood the band need at any given time. As overboard as it can sometimes go, like with the wheezing synth and canned beat of Another Doomed Relationship that’s rarely all that kinetic, the variety in sound does at least keep The Just Joans’ output interesting, even when kept rooted to a more standard indie-pop baseline like with Wee Guys (Bobby’s Got A Punctured Lung) and its embrace of a classic pop sway and backing vocals. The use of strings proves to be especially strong here, not just in giving Dear Diary, I Died Again Today a wonderful lushness that wisely never gets too bombastic or overblown, but also to serve as a more stable backing tone for When Nietzche Calls to solidify a horn line that might be a bit too discordant for its own good. But even then, the fact that The Just Joans continue to pull from so many different sources, even as just augmentation, is what gives this album its sense of motion and fluidity. When paired a very unobtrusive production style that maintains a homespun warmth throughout, there’s a richness to the variety on offer that’s really compelling, even when it doesn’t totally work, and for an album that stays as relatively restrained as this one does, that’s a good quality to have.
And yes, it doesn’t widen the appeal that much beyond those who’ll already enjoy something like this, The Just Joans are still able to produce an indie-pop album that refreshingly feels like its own thing. The touchstones are never too obvious even when they are there, and a likable, earnest core in performance and songwriting does give something as low-key as this a real boost. By design, it’s not going to be the scene-stealer that, to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t look like The Just Joans are ever going to have at this point, but indie-pop fixes can be far worse than The Private Memoirs…, especially at this point in the year.
For fans of: Art Brut, Teenage Fanclub, Belle And Sebastian
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of The Just Joans’ by The Just Joans is released on 10th January on Fika Recordings.