Album Review: Just Friends, ‘Hella’

Posted: by The Editor

Bay Area collective, Just Friends, is best known for the tangible and infectious energy that they bring to everything they do. There’s an undeniable sense of community and support that radiates from their output that has allowed them to continually build on what exactly a Just Friends song sounds like. In the seven years since they released their debut album, Rock 2 Rhythm, the band has dipped into the frantic energy of DIY Punk, the groovy kind of Funk Rock made popular by fellow California natives, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and smoother R&B stylings of acts like Rex Orange County and Kali Uchis. The upcoming release of their third album, Hella, sees them at their absolute best – bringing all the puzzle pieces of their career together to create a body of work that truly encapsulates their ethos and I can confidently say that this is one of the most captivating records that will come from the first half of 2022.

That’s not to say that the evolution of Just Friends hasn’t been divisive. There are hardcore enthusiasts for what was brought to the table on the band’s debut and those people are quick to voice their disinterest in what the band is doing now. Sure, the days of frantic, voice-shattering yelps of tracks like “Welcome Mats” and “Move To Miami” are gone, but that energy is still very much at the base of the songs that make up Hella. That raw, unrefined energy that helped those people forge a connection to the older material is still there – it’s just been finessed. A more fine-tuned version of that delivery can be heard throughout Hella, most notably in the three-song power hour of “Hot”, “Sizzle”, and “Stupid (feat Lil B)” that brings us into the back half of the record. 

Both “Sizzle” and “Stupid” were released as part of the JF Crew EP series that was released last year as a means to ease the transition from Nothing But Love to Hella and were instant stand-out in the band’s catalog. The way that Sam was able to channel the raw power of his vocal into the spitfire delivery on these tracks with such ease is incredible and a true testament to the fact that when it comes to Just Friends: music is alive, genre is dead. “Hot” is a heavy, bass-driven mantra of self-love. It’s a confident, swaggering beast of a track that showcases both Sam and Brond thriving in their element. 

Rounding out the back half of the record, we’ve got surefire hyper pop hit “Bad Boy” and the previously released acoustic love song, “Sunflower.” Let the record show that there is not an ounce of hyperbole in the following statement. “Bad Boy” is one of the best songs to come from any DIY band in the last decade. The hook of this song is that stupid simple, stuck-in-your-head kind of shit that makes a song a smash hit. You’ll catch yourself singing “You are just a bad boy/Lovin’ you’s a sad choice/All you do is make me cry/You never call me weepin/Playground getting teased and/All you do is make me cry” by the time the second chorus rolls around. The trade-off vocals on each of the track’s verses reek of 90’s pop nostalgia through the lens of Just Friends and the result is something so sickeningly sweet that it hits like a dopamine rush each and every time. 

Before we start to talk about “Sunflower”, it would be remiss of me to not touch on the achievement that the first half of Hella truly is. It’s in this half of the record that Just Friends channels the aforementioned influence of Rex Orange County and Kali Uchis. The album opens by showcasing Brond’s silky smooth, powerhouse vocals on tracks like “Love Letter” and “Honey (feat. Nate Curry).” Both are these day-drunk love songs that would feel most at home being played at full volume from a sand-wedged speaker on the beach. The kind of music that begs to soundtrack the moments in your life that you’ll cling to forever. However, the real crowning achievement of this half the record comes in the form of the lead single, “Basic (feat. Hobo Johnson and Lil B).” 

If you’re reading this, there is a solid chance that you’re already familiar with the song, but it’s still worth stating that “Basic” is a bonafide hit. The energy of the song is akin to something like Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day” and Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend.” The song is about accepting what it means to be a “normy” in the sense of learning to accept and love that you don’t need to work so hard to impress everyone when you’ve got a core group of friends to show you unconditional love and support. On a more superficial note, the hook of this song? Stuck in your head with the quickness. It’s the kind of earworm that songwriters spend entire careers trying to produce. I mean, “Face it, we’re basic/Chillin with my friends, they’re my favorite/We’re the only ones that we talk to now/We’re the only ones that we talk to now.” Come on now. 

Okay, we’ve made it back to “Sunflower.” I’ve been head over heels in love with this song since it was released as part of the final installment of the JF Crew series last September. There’s a warmth to the song that goes unmatched and you can hear the joy in both Sam and Brond’s vocals on their respective verses, but especially when they melt into each other in the bridge of “You hope sun shines on a new day/But real-life hit like a freight train.” This is the perfect way for the band to close the record. “Sunflower” is something familiar, but speaks on wanting to bloom and grow with the people you love. Which is ultimately the mission statement of Just Friends and is most successfully showcased on Hella as a whole. 

Hella is out March 4th on Pure Noise Records. Grab your copy here.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Joel Funk |@joelfunkii

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