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Junior Boys

Begone Dull Care

Rating: 4.5

Label: Domino Records

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I often like to conduct my own personal cultural anthropology studies through the lens of pop culture. There’s a lot to be learned from the way art tends to predict impending crises just through the movements and trends that tend to pop up before and during large-scale disasters. Whether it’s because art is inherently tied to emotions and feelings or because artists themselves are more acutely aware of the thoughts of the culture they work within, the cliché of life imitating art is often scarily accurate. Coming on the heels of the inevitable New Depression, the third album from Junior Boys is a serious departure from their previously indie rock tinged electro pop, its sound and structure more closely related to the music that evolved during the last real global economic crisis during the 1970s, which would itself eventually turn into the poppy New Wave of the relatively fiscally stable 1980s. Where Begone Dull Care’s predecessors perfected myriad elements of 1980s synth pop, Junior Boys have clearly traded in their Depeche Mode and OMD albums for the likes of Tubeway Army, Suicide and Vangelis’ Blade Runner score.

What separates Juniors Boys from these influences and their latter day imitators such as Nine Inch Nails is that on Begone the duo have injected a much needed sense of humanity into their electronics. The breathy dueling vocals on “Parallel Lines” sound broken down, emerging from the album’s opening static hiss like ghosts in the machine set against a fittingly mechanical beat. Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus have cherry picked the bleating synths of Human League, the machinations of Gary Numan and Moroder’s bubbling low end and seamlessly sown them together, leaving plenty of room for the refreshingly emotive vocals to take the lead. The result is a dance party for the apocalypse; not the kind where people dance in spite of their fate, but one where people attempt to act as though things are normal, even though you can see their despair in the way their bodies move and hear it in their near silent mutterings amongst themselves.

Even on the more up-tempo tracks, such as the Chromeo-tinged “Bits and Pieces,” the vocals refuse to let you forget that we are living in uncertain times, even if the bassline just cares about getting in your pants. Centerpiece “Dull to Pause” is the album’s finest moment, with what could be a bitcrushed Fischer-Price toy piano crafting its own soundtrack to Wall-E, while a slide guitar meanders in and out of the track as an acoustic guitar references “This Must Be the Place.” The juxtaposition of the wailing slide guitar, kiddie piano line and heart-wrenching vocal take makes for pure bliss, practically begging to score the emotional climax to an especially resonant, visionary film. The referential guitar line underpins it all with a healthy dose of nostalgia. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and when Greenspan cries, “Because I don’t want to share you…” you’re torn between mentally plotting where this will fit on the mix you’re making for the barista you have a crush on and secretly wanting to follow his orders and not share the song at all.

Begone is full of moments like this, leaving you simultaneously feeling hopelessly lost and serenely aware that we’re all in this together. On first impression, the album may seem less ambitious than it eventually reveals itself to be once it has taken up permanent space in your brain; while it isn’t as sprawling and obliquely optimistic as Animal Collective’s latest, it is immediately embracing and is bound to be the kind of work that certain listeners will cling to desperately, listening to nothing else for months. Its only misstep, the too-smooth “Hazel,” would be other albums’ strongest track, its only real crime being that it’s an awkward fit and would have made a better non-album track.

Picking at the rare flaws in Begone Dull Care is a futile exercise, though; Junior Boys have been a promising act since their beginning and with this album they may have propelled themselves to the forefront of a genre cluttered with pretenders and con artists. This is an album that is both wholly of a time and utterly timeless. It isn’t difficult to imagine its heart, “Dull to Pause,” growing to become an anthem that neatly sums up the 2000s for future generations: hopeful in spite of itself, reworking old technology to make it fit new ideas and achingly full of the need for salvation.

by Morgan Davis

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