Release Date: Apr 7, 2009
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Indie, Electronic
As the first decade of a new millennium draws to a close, and many a critic laments the impending death of the album, it’s nice to listen to a band that still looks at a record as a 10 inch vinyl circle of art that moves, lives, breathes and grows. It may seem peculiar and oxymoronic to include Junior Boys in this category, two Canadian audiophiles who with their digital mastery seem alienated from the analogue process, but one listen-through of their latest record, Begone Dull Care, clearly indicates the opposite: it’s a record that takes a little patience and a little effort but when given the proper attention it will become like that one album from when you were young that just won’t leave your iPod. Unfortunately for Junior Boys, ‘attention’ has never been there in abundance for them.
Hamilton electro-pop heroes Junior Boys may actually be getting better with each album, an impressive feat considering the hyperbolic praise heaped on their debut. This time around they sound slightly more connected to genuine dance music, while at the same time stripping away some of the atmospherics to allow more of their subtle pop sensibilities to surface. [rssbreak] If you initially loved them for that ultra-restrained and delicate approach to electronic pop, don't worry - this is still the Junior Boys, so you're not going to find any coke-fuelled bangers celebrating the late-night life.
There’s a double standard in what we want out of our artists as they grow and evolve. Overall, we want our musicians to be pure of spirit, free from the fickle whim of our fancies, as strong as those wants may be. Yet, we’d also like our artists to become products of our desires, to anticipate our own musical development and to match it closely, all the while retaining the authenticity that drew us to them and never resorting to imitation or mockery.
Five years ago, Junior Boys-- Canadians with an eye on London's turn-of-the-millennium dancefloor innovations-- merged UK garage's sugary micro-programming with winsome synth-pop hooks and melancholy vocals on their debut album, Last Exit. The record made electronically attuned critics gush, but unlike a lot of supposed crossovers, you could also imagine the Boys reaching a wider indie audience: Frontman/mastermind Jeremy Greenspan and then-partner Johnny Dark learned well from their white-label heroes, while Greenspan's voice oozed a familiar strain of bedridden heartbreak. Yet Greenspan hesitantly distanced himself from comparisons to indie heartthrobs-- perhaps that's one reason why Last Exit failed to find the mass collegiate audience that turned the Postal Service into the 21st-century's indie-pop/electronic hybrid of choice.
Electronic indie darlings pump out mechanical love on disappointing third album Junior Boys drew inspiration for the album from the animation of Norman McLaren, an artist who married the movement of abstract shapes with pulsing noise and symphonic overtures. This explains much of the record's blase flow as a minimalist, primary-color event full of midi tempos and digital monotony, but '80s funk seems to be the more tangible aesthetic at work. Their previous kaleidoscopic swirls of pitch and cadence are truncated into straight-laced wah-pedal beats (“The Animator”) and grating synth riffs (“Hazel”).
Begone dull care, indeed - this album's tranquilising effect is such that it should be available only on prescription. A Canadian duo who specialise in soft, smudgy electronica, Junior Boys have outdone themselves on their third album. Even at its breeziest - the opening Parallel Lines, which bobs along like an MGMT single, or Bits and Pieces, whose squelchy intro will remind Calvin Harris of his own Acceptable in the 80s - this record encourages head-nodding rather than tush-shaking.
Taking its title and inspiration from a collaboration between animator/filmmaker Norman McLaren and jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, Begone Dull Care is, at once, the most upbeat and subtle album from Junior Boys yet. At first, these songs seem to lack distinction from one another, but the duo's painstaking attention to detail and nuance -- traits they recognized in McLaren's work -- gradually glints through, however briefly. Other than the hypnotic "Work" and the playfully geeky "Hazel," the set is punchless, more a pleasant mood album fit for casual background listening, lacking the unnerved tension that runs through the majority of Last Exit and So This Is Goodbye.
Mini music reviews Lady SovereignJigsawPop (Midget/EMI)The female face of U.K. grime goes pop on her sophomore disc, singing as much as rapping and, in ”So Human,” jacking the groove from ”Close to Me” by the Cure. B- — Mikael Wood Billy Ray CyrusBack to TennesseeCountry (Walt Disney/Lyric Street)Who is Cyrus 17 years after ”Achy Breaky Heart”? Depending on the track, a poor man’s Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Trace Adkins, or Neil Diamond.
Inspired by and borrowing its title from animator Norman McLaren’s short film, Begone Dull Care is Junior Boys‘ most subtle, detailed album to date. Where McLaren’s film is set to the music of jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson, Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus were obviously influenced by McLaren’s attention to detail. And although it doesn’t seem to be getting the respect and admiration that their previous two albums garnered, Begone Dull Care is a superb album on its own.
Junior Boys are an uncommonly patient group. In general, critics are, too. It’s part of the job description, though there are plenty of good critics who aren’t. The point here is that if you want to see criticism get worked up over something, and if you want that thing to be relatively obscure and beyond accusations of hype, you might do well to follow the press coverage of Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus.