A psedonym that hints at only a stiff upper lip; a monkier that reverbirates in their jocund sounds. From Leeds-via-the '90s: and all the way to London.
London Bound is available at:
Their album Say It available via
IT is back to Yorkshire, and back to musical versatility...
that occupies mind-space and desire today. I have broken away, slightly, from Yorkshire, over the past week or so: in search of endeavouring bands from other parts of the U.K. Yorkshire is a county, that maybe historically, is not in many people's minds, when considering the all-time greats. There have been some varied bands that have hailed from here- The Housemartins, Arctic Monkeys, Alt-J, The Music, Shed Seven etc. It is really over the last few years, that there has been a real surge of new talent from these parts. I have been studying closely, the goings-on in Leeds, Bradford and in-between. There are fevered dreams and strange avenues being explored: more than you would imagine. In a great deal of the U.K. there is a tendency to stick closely to your influences: play it safe and not stray too far from familiar soil. In Yorkshire, there seems to be a greater independence and pioneer. Many of the acts and new musicians seem far happier to go deeper, and produce unexpected moves. It would be dyscalculia, to assume that there is not similar mobility and motivation elsewhere: Scotland is particular hot when it comes to originality; so too is the West Coast of the U.S. The thing that separates Yorkshire from the rest of the U.K., is the range of sounds and styles from the musical patrons. The greatest natural resource the county possesses is its history- industry, coalmines, landscape and natural beauty. It is a county that has a fascinating- and sometimes difficult- history. This has been noted, and recognised by modern music acts. In the way that acts from large cities, feel constrained and subjugated- there is less of this strain further north. When there is more physical and emotional room to manoeuvre; as well as a more diverse and variegated history: this produces the most striking moves. I have heard some rather baroque styling from four and five-piece bands; Jazz/Swing sensations from a Leeds record label; Blues Rock sounds reminiscent of Detroit from Wakefield, and all manner of cross pollination. There are fewer closed circles and homogeneous clans to be found: a sense of identity and uniqueness are bywords that are adhered to closely. Personality and verisimilitude rules the hearts and souls of the local talent, and there is a much more professional and dedicated passion too. It is the sheer scale and range that sets Yorkshire aside, and to my mind, will see this part of the U.K. hosting the most celebrated and popular acts of next year.
Hailing from Leeds, Just Handshakes do nothing to discourage my plaudits, nor spoil the quality ratio. BBC 6 Music, Drowned In Sound and Rough Trade East have already paid tribute to the band, and noted their ambition and incredible sound. One notices that there is a little mystery with regards to the group themselves. They have an impressive online coverage, and an array of glowing reviews, but their biography and background is fairly anemic and bare: they have a need to let their music take focus, rather than the band members. Just Handshakes would suggest a rather British sensibility. There is not an inkling of knowledge of the links of "Discussing Uganda" and "Slipping my moorings". A sense of cheeky candidness and sexual anomie lurks beneath the surface. I think, in the past their band name contained open bracket-We're British- closed bracket. A rather wry and tongue-in-cheek smile is present, and the group are not your moody The xx-esque bunch: there is a joy and passion in the music, and Just Handshakes have been heralded by reviewers and fans: many of whom note that they have hints of the '80s and '90s in their sound. As well as having an impressive back catalogue of songs and scenes, they have been fortunate enough to have played with Mystery Jets and Veronica Falls.
The song that has been garnering the most attention, is their new album's lead-off song, London Bound. It is an appropriate opening track to any album, as it invigorates and makes its presence known, straight away. Beginning life as an elliptical portrait of sound: electronic hold, reminiscent of Dance music, but promising far, far more. It is a deceptive side-step, and in your mind, you are predicting heavier and more forbidding sounds: there is an element of Kid A Radiohead, as well as Portishead to the ambition. It is when the soundscape supersedes to percussion, bass and guitar rumbling- soft, but with plenty of energy- that your thoughts are taken elsewhere. The presence of electronics persevere in the background, but the foreground has an Indie tone to it: sort of like Wild Beasts-cum-Alt-J. In the way that I have decried the XX for their down-turned moodiness, Just Handshakes can invoke a similarly understated epicness to their compositions. The strings and percussion- combined with the introduction of a new guitar line- result in a euphoric rush, that promises ensuing tales of curious regard. The introduction does its very best to build momentum, and draw you in and under. The bass and percussive line are filled with sparks and bounces: a gravity is developed, and draws all the sounds and sight into a central core, before the vocal arrives. When Clara's voice arrives there is a delicacy and playfulness behind it. Instantly it seems belonging to a past time. Her tones remind me of a song that for the life of me, I can't remember. There are hints of the singer to that song, and it will come to me no doubt, in a few hours of so. In any case, there is evocations of the '80s and early '90s: singers like Liz Fraser. The proscenium backing elevates her flavour notes, so that a distinct charm and curiosity is elicited. There is melody, and sounds of mature longings and revocations. I have heard many people say that during previous releases, the music has bustled for attention, and each band member were sort of on a level plain, with regards to adulation and attention. It is hard to argue against the relentless dance and sway of the music: the bass and strings that bounce and pop; the drum that keeps the mood in check, and surveys the scene. The voice is the star; and something that I was eager to hear even higher up the mix. It stands in the spotlight and coquettishly plays with its hair and smiles. There are audible swings and skips: the voice elongates and holds notes; wrestling with them and contorting them into beautiful shapes. If the nature of the voice, and the enthusiastic warmth of the music suggests a harmonious whole. If you studied the lyrics: "I don't want to be on my own" for instance, suggests deeper loneliness and uncertainty. It is not clear if the title 'London Bound' refers to a preferred destination for our heroine, or whether there is a less literal relevance and ambition behind it. The lyrics go on to explain that our heroine's friends: "They leave without making a sound" on their way to London. Whether there is longing to be with them; a regret that friends are flying the nest; or there is greater anxiety at heart, is hard to say. You would be forgiven for getting lost in the voice and musical concoctions: they distract you enough so you do not become too sad at our heroine's plight; but are inclusive and intoxicating in the sense that you will be picturing what the lyrics are saying. There are questions: "Does it have to be this way?"; emphasising the dislocation and depersonalisation. Towards the 1:20 mark, there are drum rumblings that have '80s indie jangle to them: evocations of The Smiths in the guitar work as well. With a triumphant and lifting rush similar to that pioneered by The Cure, London Bound has a very real mechanical rush and propulsion. When the rush and mini-chaos is temporised and calmed, the hopping bass has '90s credentials: there is modern-day relevance but it has its heart rooted in the Britpop scufflings of '94-'95. The drum fills gallop and pop their hips; the guitar signals are subtle, but sprinkle little touches on the shoulder, that supports the emotion, but shows a dignified personality too. When the line "Can we walk the long way home" is sung just before 3:00, there is a tangible pain in the voice and desperation: it is a plea to be in company, and not to left alone. It is the sort of line and subject Morrissey would write about, circa Viva Hate. If there is a sound of '80s/'90s Manchester in some of the lines and notes; this is bolstered around 3:11; little bits of Joy Division ('70s if we're being precise); tiny smatterings of Happy Monday's (transposed touched of Step On), and a fond affection for the past masters. The final minute spends time making sure the chorus is embedded into your mind: it is a centre-point and the key mandate. That sense of our central figure wanting to take her time, so she does not have to go to an empty home (whether the "long way" refers to going home via London, may be lurking in the subconscious). The bold uniqueness of the song, with all its qualities; combined with tiny The Cure/The Smiths touches here and there, make for an authoritative and memorable song. It is the perfect lead-off for an album that promises much treasure and reward. London Bound opens brilliantly and builds up the atmosphere, and ends with a more meditative and calmer vocal plea.
If you are not a fan of any of the music, examples of influences I have mentioned here, then you should not abandon the shores of Just Handshakes. There is an incredibly modern and fresh feel to the entire effect. If anything it is more modern than anything out there at the moment. A lot of bands tend to not produce music with such a carefree and wistful energy; and combine that with lyrics that are imploring, yet not too dark. Emphasis today is put on heavy-handedness and a tendency to be a little moribund; unless you are a top-notch lyricist, there is always the temptation to become too insular. Just Handshakes are all-inclusive and open-armed in their loneliness. The voice is so warm and charming- with only slight emphemarability- that it is impossible not to be won over, and sympathetic all at the same time. The album Say It has- over its 12 tracks- a mixture of wanting to be near the bright city lights, as well as a fond love for home and for Yorkshire. There is a lot of personal stuff, as well as romantic strife and aching. On the basis of the evidence here, and having listened to the rest of the album, it is safe to say that the band will cement a wide appeal and gain many new fans. I hope that they rationalise and figure out their definition of home and belonging. There will be a temptation- outside of London Bound- to want to stray from Yorkshire, and move to the capital. London is where the money and record labels are based, by and large, and it is understandable. I have found, from reviewing bands from Leeds and Bradford, that that is where the creative juices flow, and where much inspiration is to be found. What 2013/2014 holds for Just Handshakes is evident: success and demand; it is what moves they make next, that will be interesting. Take a listen to the single, and to the album as a whole; because there are never straight interpretations to be drawn. Just Handshakes make music that is simply universal, but whose messages...
CAN strike and effect everyone for very different reasons.