The modern musical landscape doesn’t really have a space in which to neatly deposit Just Friends. They’re an eight-piece with dual male and female vocals, bringing in a blend of funk-rock, hip-hop and pop-rock, not only with an angle that feels distinctly synonymous with the DIY scene, but also the pull to have two individual guest appearances from Lil B himself on this very album. This is not a ‘normal’ band on their face, but that’s exactly what’s so intriguing about them when the music on HELLA is this irrepressibly simple. In no way is that meant as any sort of slight either; across a wide variety of tones and instrumental angles, Just Friends have put together a true testament to a ‘less is more’ ethos, with pop hooks for days wrapped in a warmth that can only come from a band having just the best time making music. There’s a broad brightness to it all that really sells that, be it in the vocal tones of Sam Kless and Brianda Goyos Leon that are borderline cartoonish in their exuberance (again, no criticism there whatsoever), or in the delicious mesh of prominent horns and bass that backs an already stellar approach to melody. Opening with Love Letter really gives the sense of what Just Friends are best at, with the glossy roils and incandescent chorus that never neglects how imperative texture is in cultivating the overall sunniness. That’s further established through how much variety there is here, and how that still remains unwaveringly zeroed in on that goal; there’s dreamlike R&B on Honey, a Limp Bizkit bassline coursing through Hot and a thrum on Stupid that would’ve been right at home on a mid-period Red Hot Chili Peppers song, none of which seem out of place within Just Friends’ vital, vibrant oeuvre. The closest they come to that is Bad Boy with a stiffness that feels antithetical to what’s cultivated elsewhere, but it’s the only example across the album that otherwise never misses.
Critically though, it’s all so much fun, and to see Just Friends play that up only makes it more so. They aren’t staggeringly prescient lyricists and aren’t touching on deep themes, but it also doesn’t feel necessary for this album in particular, where the freewheeling personality is more than enough to carry it. It definitely helps that the aforementioned broadness plays such a key role in making that work;there’s almost a hint of Insane Clown Posse’s Homies to Basic, a breezy song about loving life and friends where Just Friends’ embrace of its corniness doesn’t hamper it in the slightest, even despite Hobo Johnson having the most irritating voice of any human who’s ever lived. Meanwhile, Shine and Sizzle carry themselves with bravado standing about ten feet tall, and Sunflower—while coming perilously close to tipping into saccharine disposability—never shies away from its true, genuine earnestness. In more ways than one, Just Friends’ placelessness within the industry is a bigger boon for them, where they have the flexibility to try their own thing at any turn, and where threading it through a pop context or formula isn’t as limiting as some might claim. At no point does HELLA feel even remotely compromised, nor do Just Friends sound as though they’re hitting notes they don’t wholeheartedly believe in. As accessible as this ultimately is—and make no mistake, with the right push, this could be absolutely enormous even outside of a rock or alternative medium—the embrace of creativity and individuality is still palpable, and it contributes to the layers that make it up and help it stand out. There’s a lot here that works and that’s so fine-tuned to do so, while still being able to let loose and avoid being stilted or canned in any way. At the end of the day, that’s where Just Friends’ efforts coalesce for the greatest effect, on an album that’s relentlessly enjoyable and fresh, headed by performers positively gushing charisma, and tied together by some of the most fun and direct music of this roundabout style to come out in ages. If there’s one band for whom unmitigated success and adoration is entirely warranted and deserved, it really would be Just Friends.
For fans of: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mom Jeans, Goldfinger
‘HELLA’ by Just Friends is released on 4th March on Pure Noise Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall