Junior Boys

It’s All True

Rating: 3.4/5.0

Label: Domino

Never as trendy as compatriots Hot Chip or as commercially successful as fellow countrymen Chromeo, Ontario’s Junior Boys have occupied an unenviable space in the electronic music world – forward thinking enough to garner some critical praise but not quite cool or glossy enough to attract a big following. 2009 saw the Boys settling into their position of emotional elder statesmen on Begone Dull Care, an ambitious album that was weirdly met with a kind of critical shrug and no hits on the level of the duo’s nouveau classic “In the Morning.” Possibly in reaction to that underrated release’s poor reception, Junior Boys have now gone backwards with It’s All True, an album that shelves Begone Dull Care’s purposefully flawed humanity in favor of some kind of robotic take on dramatic songcraft.

The Boys begin the album well enough, with the fake-out of “Itchy Fingers,” a track that initially hints at what’s to come before unveiling some classic Junior Boys-style dance pop. As Jeremy Greenspan does his breathy crooning over a heavily digitized beat, Matt Didemus once again shows off his flair for arrangements, narrowing the instrumentation down to blasts of full synth chords and analog bass, icy drips of counter-melody appearing alongside rave-like auto-arpeggios. When the guitar shows up, it’s hardly melodic, just a smattering of palm muted strumming that plays off the keys. “Itchy Fingers” is Junior Boys in prime form, wonderfully executed and full of surprises that reveal themselves only through repeated listenings, addictive in its tempo changes and personality. And then the dubiously named “Playtime” comes along and ruins everything.

Sounding like some terrifying amalgamation of Genesis and ABC, “Playtime” is the worst of the Boys’ ’80s-influenced wrapped up in one nauseating package. Where similarly slow paced, melodramatic entries from the duo have fared well on prior releases (“Sneak a Picture” and “The Animator” from Begone Dull Care both spring to mind), the problem here is that there’s simply no personality whatsoever. “Playtime” could have come from any number of ’80s nostalgists; it’s that anonymous.

Equally formless and unappetizing is “You’ll Improve Me,” which takes the wrong lessons from the Hot Chip school of thought, prominently featuring an especially conversational entry from Greenspan that attempts to make up in casual posturing what it lacks in wit and splendor. “A Truly Happy Ending” continues that trend of Hot Chip aping with its digital piano chords and fractured programming set against Greenspan touching his higher register. The three-song sequence represents the album’s nadir, a hodge podge of pitifully awkward attempts at relevancy from a group that is normally above such tactics.

The back half of It’s All True fortunately picks up the slack, beginning with the soaring heights of “The Reservoir,” which thankfully sounds like what Junior Boys fans expect from the group- adventurously personable dream pop. With a beat that comes in fits and starts and a ricocheting synth line, “The Reservoir” is a sequel of sorts to Begone Dull Care standout “Dull to Pause.” “The Reservoir” is the sound of taking pleasure in mood, of realizing “Summer is here/ But it’s never for long” and being okay with that. It’s a foil of sorts for other It’s All True standout “ep,” which initially sets a John Carpenter-like synth line against a seductive Greenspan vocal before building towards the kind of bass-heavy electro-soul that defined So This Is Goodbye. The childish of-the-moment focus of “The Reservoir” is a natural precursor for the doomed lust of “ep,” where Greenspan can’t help but “Love you so bad” that he has to repeat it, no matter how ineffective the statement is.

By the time the album ends with the club epic that is “Banana Ripple,” it’s as though Junior Boys have started making an entirely different album, one more naturally in line with what they’ve done before. Why it took them a volley of misfires to realize they were on the wrong path is unclear but it’s to everyone’s benefit that they make the sudden change in course. It’s not enough to totally salvage the album but it does at least grant those eerily mechanical mistakes a kind of humanity- they’re a window into the nature of songwriting, where experiments are so often necessary even when they fail because without them songwriters are left in a void, unsure of what works and what doesn’t.

by Nick Hanover

  • Revisit: Slacker

    “This town has always had its fair share of crazies; I wouldn’t want to live a…
  • Interview: Doseone (Part Two)

    As one the founders of the influential indie hip-hop label anticon., Adam “Doseone&#…
  • Interview: Doseone (Part One)

    As one the founders of the influential indie hip-hop label anticon., Adam “Doseone&#…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Revisit: Slacker

“This town has always had its fair share of crazies; I wouldn’t want to live a…