Barbara and Ethan Gruska, separated by just six years, share musical DNA that spans generations. Their father is a film and TV composer, and their maternal grandfather is legendary composer John Williams. Individually, between their first album as The Belle Brigade and now, Barbara has drummed with artists like Fiona Apple and Jenny Lewis, and Ethan has recorded with a number of Los Angeles musicians. That background, combined with those recent experiences, certainly helped shape the sound on Just Because.
Whereas The Belle Brigade’s 2011 debut album was comprised of retro folk-rock tunes, the siblings’ 2014 follow-up has adjusted to the times. Just Because incorporates modern synths and samples with its tonally tight layered harmonies to create a breakup record that’s sunny not just in instrumentation, but also disposition. “Be Like Him,” one of the most grooving tracks on the album, masks its nostalgia with a defendant chorus of “Don’t you ever tell me that I can’t ever be like him.” Immediately afterwards, the wistful “Miss You In My Life” features its protagonist admitting the title’s truth through melancholy repetition and over playground-like chatter. And “Not the One You Want” lyrically foreshadows the inevitable moving on, but sounds more like guilty-pleasure ‘90s alt-rock with its sing-along-ability and clear song structure. Ultimately, Just Because sounds like an almost-redefined version of The Belle Brigade, which is an impressive feat for a relatively new band. It’s just a little surprising that such a sad record can sound so blissfully blasé.