Photo credit: Joey Tobin
AuxCordFM is proud to present the sixt installment in our ‘Best of 2018’ albums countdown. The ten albums selected by Editor James Shotwell will be announced and celebrated through a series of essays. Click here to review the full list and follow us on Twitter for additional updates.
I never thought I’d get to write these words, though I hoped for such an occasion almost every day over the last decade: Ska is back. Just Friends is the band those who love black and white plaid have been waiting for, and their record Nothing But Love was one of 2018’s best.
But to be fair, ska never went away. The genre, made famous by groups such as Reel Big Fish and Streetlight Manifesto, spent the majority of the new millennium on the verge of extinction due to changing trends within the alternative music scene. Legacy acts did their best to keep the excitement alive, as did newcomers such as We Are The Union, but nothing stuck with listeners the way material did a decade (or more) prior.
That all seems to be changing, however, and we have California’s fast-rising Just Friends to thank. The group blends together a variety of sounds, including punk and alternative sensibilities, but ultimately it’s their decision to embrace the oft-overlooked fun of ska and reggae that makes the band stick to your bones. Nothing But Love, the group’s debut full-length, delivers track after track of pure audio bliss. They want to lift you up, as well as everyone around you, and they aim to do so through a collection of material that shines a light on the simple joys in life. You wouldn’t go as far as to call this idea groundbreaking, but it is, at the very least, refreshing.
“Never Gonna Bring You Down,” the first song on the album, tells us everything we need to know about what Just Friends is hoping to accomplish. The song promotes unity and friendship while delivering an in your face take on ska-punk sensibilities that could easily fit in with any of the genre’s biggest names. That alone would be enough to pull in an audience, but Just Friends isn’t satisfied with merely doing enough. They want to take what already works in the genre and build on it as all great innovators do, and fortunately for listeners they do exactly that throughout the rest of the record.
Take the mid-album balled “I Wanna Love You,” for example. The song begins like the last slow dance song played at the prom in any movie from the eighties before bringing in just enough horn accompaniment to add a rebellious, yet surprisingly smooth jazz element to the entire affair. It’s the only song on the record that sounds the way it does, yet somehow – squished between the fiery fun of the single “Flex” and a skit about a radio station – it works.
No matter where you turn on Nothing But Love you encounter a band poised to flip the world of alternative music on its head. After a decade of pop-punk domination, Just Friends are switching things up with a sound long-proven to build lasting careers that strays just far enough from what’s currently fashionable to win over anyone who previously thought ska wasn’t for them. They are opening the doors to retroactive genre discovery for an entire generation of young music fans while simultaneously making a name for themselves through hard work and excellent songwriting. Few bands, if any, can claim to have done the same in recent memory. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess, but if I were you, I would keep my eyes to the sky.