wojtek the bear are a Glaswegian quintet comprising Tam Killean (lead vocals), Graham Norris (guitar), Becky Cheminais (vocals/violin), Scott McCutcheon (drums/percussion), and Paul Kirkwood (vocals/bass) who have been described as delivering smart casual indie pop. The band formed in 2016 and release their third studio album `Shaking Hands With the NME` this month.

The album opens with `second place on purpose` which Tam has shared was the first song he wrote after his son was born and it’s essentially about the realisation that, for the first time in your life, you’ll instinctively put someone else’s needs first. It`s a gentle number with some trumpet tones at the beginning before strolling along with a rhythmic drumbeat, strings and gentle strummed guitar. The subject matter ensures it`s fairly introspective. There`s a more jazzy late afternoon vibe about `frank` which is seemingly where the narrator is asking a partner to be forthright and honest. A fairly mesmerising listen.

`sometimes you have to go left` is a sort of love song or acclamation of affection and the lengths you have to go to, to ensure all remains well. A softly shared number that I could see Deacon Blue or the Beautiful South playing. The wonderful Del Amitri came to mind when I listened to `small time highs` maybe it was the intricate wordplay or the way the number was presented but it`s an enticing earworm of a number.

`a sunday without the fear` really shimmers with intricate guitar chords and strings with an understated bass line and brushed drum that allows the reflective vocals to share a track that touches on life`s anxieties that we all try to supress. We enjoy a real foot tapper in `fireworks out of focus` a soothing folk tinged submission which appears to be about growing up with somebody and sharing those intimate moments that only two best pals can share. There`s a line that I found almost overwhelming ” there`s always something bigger than us, it`s not how hard you get hit, it`s how you adjust.”

`the reluctant astronaut` has a rolling drumbeat and glistening guitar chords that give this number a fairly cosmic vibe. It`s so simple but so effective with occasional handclaps that add a certain `je ne c`est quoi` and lyrics that contemplate an atmospheric experience and how it may possibly seem in relation to your family and where you`re from. A brief but tender violin solo leads us out of this composition. We have a fairly expansive offering in `god loves a trier` with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure. A song that may talk of uncertainty or inner doubt with some delightful wordplay and gorgeous plunging strings.

`slowly, then all at once` is a melodic thoughtful number that for me had a touch of Americana maybe in the tranquil guitar chords shared throughout. The band have shared that “We try to write songs about universal themes that people can relate to which is really borne out by the fact this song is about being in a relationship with someone suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. A song about being in a relationship with someone who you could charitably describe as being ‘less than truthful,’ and how that then often causes introspection and you to overthink things.” The album concludes with title track `shaking hands with the NME` a final soothing amusing meditative musing on perceived fame and celebrity within the music industry and something that maybe they won`t achieve or possibly don`t want to in the manner shared.

The album was recorded and produced with Stephen Street (of The Smiths, Blur, and New Order fame) and seems to be a coming together of likeminded souls. At times it was delightfully minimal but for me less can be so much more. I loved Tam`s Glaswegian dialect and annunciation, it was at times dripping with honey and fairly hypnotic. But the other four gifted musicians really created a platform which allowed the vocals to soar and shine. I have to admit that i`m a tunes person not lyrics but it`s impossible not to become entrapped within the simple beauty of the at times, poetic words shared. 

`Shaking Hands with the NME` is probably my album of the year so far and i`m sure it`ll become yours as well.

Rating 9.5/10

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