The Just Joans have had infinite comparisons thrown their way throughout their career: The Vaselines, Belle and Sebastian, The Magnetic Fields. Yet with each release, they’re elbowing those bands out of the way, subtly but persistently becoming heroes of the underground indiepop scene.
The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of The Just Joans follows 2017’s You Might Be Smiling Now, which represented a bold return after a five year album gap. This record sees the Glaswegian six-piece honing what they do best, with a slight polish.
What started as an outlet for siblings Katie and David Pope has now expanded into a full band, but the bittersweet, nostalgic, kitchen sink lyrics that are their trademark are still there in force. Songwriter David is still on a quest to make you laugh, nod in recognition, have a little bop and then bawl, all within one song. Take opener Hey Ho, Let’s Not Go, which launches with triumphant, upbeat brass and strings but quickly gives way to David’s drawling Glaswegian “Hey ho, let’s not go, I’d rather stay at home tonight, The TV’s good and the weather’s shite.”
Who Does Susan Think She Is returns to a common theme for the band; growing up, moving away, and the changes that come with it. In this snarky track, Susan moved away for art school and is now a vegan bisexual who dresses “like a weirdo” and is thinking of moving to London: “You can’t run away from what you are, I know you, I know you, I remember when you stuffed your bra – that’s still you, that’s still you. We both know you haven’t got a clue about foreign films, your favourite show is still Friends.” Susan’s seemingly heckled for trying to change who she is, but then the sad refrain of “Are you still my best friend?” kicks in. See? You laugh, nod, dance, cry. All in one song.
Brother and sister continue to share singing duties, both with thick layers of Glaswegian accent, which adds to the DIY aesthetic (Katie, also a painter, is behind the album’s gorgeous artwork) and sound. While Memoirs has had a good buff and polish, courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Arion Xenos, and a guest appearance from Butcher Boy’s Alison Eales, to arrange strings, it still feels charmingly homemade. It’s a sound they can’t escape; alongside the grand, anthemic blast at the very start of the album, we have the Helen Love-esque, playful synths of My Undying Love For You Is Beginning To Die, and the acoustic strumming of When Nietzsche Calls.
Dear Diary, I Died Again Today is the song that takes them furthest out of their comfort zone. It sees Katie sing against a beautifully elegant and sparse backdrop of strings. It’s sincere and heartfelt, despite David admitting he wrote it after spotting the daytime TV film of the same name.
Memoirs is a charmingly introspective record; fun and thoughtful. The Just Joans are miserablist chroniclers, always looking about, wide-eyed, finding inspiration in the mundane, and delivering with a mischievous wink. They’re already something of a cult band, and this record further seals that status.