justhandshakes

Just Handshakes | Say It

Words by Matt Yau

If you think indie is beginning to lose its edge, we wouldn’t blame you; it’s certainly not like the halcyon days of the noughties. But that’s not to say bands haven’t been trying, Cults forged a delicate blend of 60s pop with modern touches while Summer Camp craft a lo-fi sound that pines for attention. But this four-piece from Leeds, Just Handshakes, is one of the best indie-pop bands in recent years. And what a debut album to start their journey with…

Say It opens with their familiar single ‘London Bound’ where jangly guitars and Clara’s quaint vocals mark their C86 leanings as she refrains: “Can we walk the long way home?/I don’t want to be on my own.” At first you might think that this is just another generic indie-pop band, but at every corner Just Handshakes finds another way to make you feel delightfully content as Clara drowsily sings “Those days when we were carefree and we thought that nothing would ever change.”

The first few tracks are alike. The pop structures are strong and the instrumental adds subtle intrigue and energy at will. After that though, Just Handshakes begin to express themselves with the kind of allure that makes them so difficult to dislike. The bouncing riff in ‘Say It’ belies the uncertainty in the lyrics as Clara wonders, “How many days staring at the ceiling?/When will you find something to believe in?” This kind of idle ambiguity is common throughout the album, and often juxtaposed with their exuberant sound.

As is often the case with excellent albums, Say It remains sharp throughout and actually finds another gear to its quirky vitality. On ‘November’, Clara’s quintessentially British vocals are delivered with a charm that helps you understand why the Americans revere our accent – the way she sings “home” on the first line! And beneath the inebriated adolescence that’s doused in the first half of the LP, this mid-album break offers up a darker hue emphasised with grainy string synths punctuated by the chorus, “Oh where do we go?/Oh where do we go?/Nobody knows.”

Dead and Alive’ picks you straight back up though with its infectious, smile-inducing chorus and textured synths. The delivery throughout is enchantingly bouncy, and this is epitomised by the doe-eyed indie-anthem chorus in ‘Shadows’ as Clara pleads: “Let’s find a bar and forget who we really are/Won’t you come out tonight?”

Final track, ‘Balmoral’, is a synth-driven one that ends a thoroughly enjoyable album; definitely one of my favourites of the year. Not only does the brooding tone leave you asking why it has to end but more importantly, you wonder what kind of reception they’ll receive. It could become an iconic moment where C86-inspired indie-pop is firmly back on the map, or you may have to resign yourself to the fact that Just Handshakes could be another British cult classic like The Field Mice. Let’s hope not.

Say It is due for release on May 20 via Bleeding Gold Records.

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