shaking hands with the NME is the third album from Glasgow indie pop band wojtek the bear. Recorded across two weeks last summer, at Chem19 studios in Glasgow, band leader and lyricist Tam Killean has stated his desire to simplify the recording process and avoid overcomplicating both the writing and production. And for the most part, the result is a stripped back but gorgeous, thoughtful and assured album. Aided by famed British producer Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur, New Order), who gave the band the confidence to believe in the process.

From the start shaking hands is a classic Scottish guitar record from a contemporary band flying the indie flag alongside label mates like Sister John and BMX Bandits. It deals in themes of facing fears, seeking excitement but also secretly enjoying the ordinary. Contrasting emotions abound here; of living life for fun while also wondering about facing up to personal issues.

True to the “keep it simple” mantra, each of the 10 songs don’t stray far from acoustic and lead guitars layered with warm bass and lush orchestrations. Opener ‘second place on purpose’ delivers a lilting melody and emotive strings. ‘Frank’ and ‘sometimes you have to go left’ explore the contrasts of familiarity and daring to seek an alternative way of living respectively. While considerations on how best to deal with personal issues are dealt with through instant gratification (‘small time highs’) and questioning the point of healthy living at the expense of enjoying oneself (‘a sunday without fear’).

Album highlight and latest single, ‘fireworks out of focus’ is the first uptempo number on the album and takes the listener on an experiential field trip. Yet the initial blood rush is tempered by ‘the reluctant astronaut’ who muses over a trippy repeating riff: “At first I thought I’d impress my friends and family / now I prepare for the return of my dear old friend in gravity.”

The album’s title track takes a wry nostalgia trip back to the heady days of Britpop with multiple pop-culture references of the time, most obviously to the all-powerful music mag of the decade. To a 2020s ear, it was a time period which seems foreign now, missed by the current generation where bands and music have become a throwaway commodity. Even the NME eventually fell to the digital age. Killean deadpans: ‘I won’t get to see Steve Lamacq unwind / this wasn’t the evening session I had in mind.’ And it’s a sentiment many groups probably feel is more relevant than ever (if any watched the most recent Brit Awards farce, it’ll ring especially true). The opportunity for bands with a personality to get in front of large mainstream audiences is almost non-existent in 2024.

shaking hands with the NME is a beautifully made album of indie pop, which rarely strays out its band’s set parameters. However, it’s an approach that works to its advantage. What it lacks in individual earworms or TikTok-ready choruses, as a whole it delivers on music with a heart.