ALBUM REVIEW: Just Friends – ‘Gusher’

Artwork for Just Friends’ ‘Gusher’

Just Friends are the sort of band where, if there were more like them, it would do more harm than good. Not in the sense that they themselves aren’t good, but in how theirs is a sound that seems supremely easy to dilute, should it propagate further. But honestly, Just Friends have knocked their own prospects so far out of the park that anyone else would just be playing for second. For as ephemeral as last year’s Hella was—out of design, mind; the sweet’n’simple themes and vibe were all part of the point—it felt completely emblematic of exactly where Just Friends’ greatness lies. They’ve got the free-flowing nature practically demanded of a seven-piece, in the midst of funk-rock and Californicated pop-rock and pop-rap that’s so easy to fall for over and over again. In their nominal field of one, there’s really no need for anyone else besides them.

So with Gusher, it’s more of the same but in the exact ways you’d want. Despite missing the optimal summer release window by, like, a day, there’s obviously a bottled supply that the JF Crew get their mojo from. The real beauty comes in how they’re evidently retracing ground, but you never get the sense that that’s an impediment. There’s such a dexterity in how this bends and warps in their own permanently sunny biome, and subsequently lands upon some great little moments.

Or, they do eventually, anyway. It’s not ideal that Gusher is a bit long anyway, and most of the work most ready to be trimmed back comes right at the start before Just Friends properly click back into their groove. It doesn’t feel as easygoing as they usually do, particularly on a song like Brain Hurt Bad with the way it approaches introspection and self-deprecation with a customary lack of seriousness. It struggles to connect to anything that Just Friends could get even the remotest amount of mileage from, just ending up awkward and lumpen all the way through. It’s definitely the overall weakest of that initial leg of tracks, which do still bear the qualities that sink in more easily later on. As an opener, Zaza In The Sun 🙂 is an easy tone-setter as a piece of bright, sun-speckled college rock, a vibe that’s unquestionably Just Friends’ most characteristic and important.

It’s why it’s hard to call anything on Gusher an outright failure—Just Friends are so deeply in the pocket of what’s required from them that there’ll always be a least a modicum of charm there, assembled in a way that can already feel much denser than plenty others. On the whole, they’ve got the big, bold presence and personality identifiers to where they could already be the cartoon versions of themselves. Sam Kless lets out these rough, outsized but big-hearted bellows; Briana Goyos Leon is his streamlined, slicker foil; and the rest of the band accompany them with omnipresent funk sizzle that could easily soundtrack plenty of mid-summer inner-city block parties.

If you’re looking for Just Friends’ strongest asset, it’s absolutely all of that. The sound mixed with the general camaraderie and easy command of grooves off the back of that are, in the right circumstances, unbeatable. Chalk that up to how the guitars and bass are never overly lightweight and disposable, and how Just Friends aren’t just regurgitating the easiest permutations of this sound. They might fall into its main archetypes of love songs or party songs with a main characteristic being how broad they are, but it feels right when there’s plenty of meat on these bones. The Latin flavour of Love Bug and the heaving funk of 1-800-SEXY are where that’s truly defined, as Just Friends sink into their own heat, isolate the sounds and pivots that do the most within it, and proceed to crank them up with real gusto and fun factor. Even on Circle Pit Of Love’s sharper disco rollick, or the cavernous bass blubbers on the slow jam Cream & Sugar, they show an aptitude for sinking into these varying styles to wonderful degrees, without getting lost or falling into pastiche. Maybe ‘melting-pot’ isn’t the right summation when they’re generally orbiting around the same handful of musical sources, but they’re certainly squeezing every drop of nutrition from them to use.

On top of that, it’s just great to see a band whose primary directive is fun like this, in the purest, most unimpeded way possible. It’s where the initial point of Just Friends working best as their own entity, free from scene baggage, stands tallest—with more acts in this exact lane, you’d probably lose the unique magic that’s cultivated here by a slew of converging factors. In terms of balance between purposeful creative decisions and lighthearted, go-with-the-flow simplicity, Just Friends continue to absolutely fly with Gusher. That kind of success with music this inherently uncomplicated can be difficult to attain, but that’s just part of Just Friends’ appeal, a supremely underrated act with a bar way higher than many would probably peg.

For fans of: Bad Rabbits, Hobo Johnson, Red Hot Chili Peppers (to an extent)

‘Gusher’ by Just Friends is released on 1st September on Pure Noise Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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