Release Date: Jun 14, 2011
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Club/Dance
When “Itchy Fingers” begins, you are put in mind of a slow-burning electronic ballad, but then the 80’s-inspired video game sounds start bleeping and echoing, like an electronic ping-pong ball, and the frenetic pace is set. Junior Boys have been doing this for years, lulling us into a false sense of warm security before setting us free into a forest of earthly delights. The song stops and starts, there are oriental-influenced flourishes, and a kind of musical staccato that pays homage to the wildly restless Timbaland, showing music-makers at the height of their powers.
Like the Orson Welles film it’s titled after, It’s All True, Junior Boys’ first new album since 2009’s Begone Dull Care, comes across as a darkly florid and hotly emotional vacation brochure from the towns in which it was recorded. From the dry ice chill of their native Ontario on to Shanghai and beyond, Jeremy Greenspan and Co. drift through the kinky house of “A Truly Happy Ending” to the bitter discoid epic “Banana Ripple” with room for moody electro interludes and groovy playtime enterprises.
It's an article of faith among certain bloggers that Junior Boys should be huge, but the reason they aren't is probably quite straightforward: their songs don't always match the deftness with which the Canadian duo weave cutting-edge dancefloor influences into their sound. Their last album, Begone Dull Care, highlighted the problem – as clever as ever, but lacking in hooks. Their latest was recorded after returning from an extended stay in Shanghai, and while its subtle melding of icy electronica with slick 80s R&B isn't a radical sonic departure, there's a definite sense of a band buffing what they do until it sparkles, and this time, the melodies genuinely engage you.
Canadian duo Junior Boys don't have a whole lot to prove at this point in their career. They've spent the better part of the last decade making some of the more reliably satisfying (if not ostensibly brilliant) electronic pop, pointedly mixing a creative loftiness with a Pet Shop Boys-style ear for atmospheric sensuality. But, even further than that, they've shown a sort of effortless talent at being able to vacillate between intimate showcases and intricate compositions.
As a group who deal in clinically executed electro-pop with an air of emotional restraint, it's easy for the less patient listener to think that Junior Boys are a group on auto-drive, particularly in the case of the slight dip in form that 2009's Begone Dull Care was compared to the nearly perfect Last Exit and This Is Goodbye. It's All True sees Junior Boys stick to their musical guns, but is an improvement on their last record, consolidating everything that's good about them and throwing in a couple of nice new features, if not quite matching the dizzying heights of their first two records. Jeremy Greenspan began to formulate musical ideas for the album whilst on two-month break in Shanghai which not only provided a general lightening of mood that is detectable in the music, if not the lyrics, but also more specifically the Chinese harps on album opener 'Itchy Fingers'.
I was nervous about this release. Junior Boys, I am unashamed to admit, are one of the tentpole 3rd Millennium acts of my musical cosmology. Their 2003 debut, Last Exit, is one of my favorite post-Y2K LPs, and their follow-up So This Is Goodbye was just as rich, layered, and intelligent. In the forever-young world of alternative music, they’re like the Elvis Costello of electro, writing wry, richly crafted pop music for and about adults.
Junior Boys started out making ridiculously complex music that had the intimate feel of a bedroom-based indie project. They'd mastered the intricate rhythmic syncopations of UK garage and Timbaland-style R&B, genres that had turned inventive and impossibly tricky rhythm programming into a game of pop oneupsmanship. Which is hardly the sort of thing that you'd want to hear an amateur's take on.
If Junior Boys’ fourth album It’s All True proves anything, it’s that the Ontarian, indie-electro originals will never be fully defrosted. Their stealthy, dampened beat-work has kept them remarkably suave in a subgenre that generally softens up to a dorkier demographic – and seven years since Last Exit the band is as frigidly unflappable as ever, progressing nicely through their expected idiosyncrasies, while continuing to sound effortlessly and solitarily cool. Like 2009’s slept-on Begone Dull Care, It’s All True doesn’t carry the same palatable emotional gravitas of an outwardly downhearted record like So This is Goodbye.
At some point after the release of the fatigued Begone Dull Care, Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan spent two months in China. The trip allowed him to disconnect from industry pressure and proved to be restorative. On their fourth album, he and Matt Didemus offer some of their liveliest, most engaging productions, laced with juddering synthesizer sprites, loose rhythm-guitar wriggles, and even some well-placed Chinese harp.
It’s All True begins with a song called “Itchy Fingers”, which is about as unsettled and frenetic as a Junior Boys song is likely to get. It’s followed with “Playtime”, a lengthy, almost unsettingly sensuous slow jam that’s either about fighting or sex. If you’re not in the mood for the former, it seems twitchy and immature. If you’re not in the mood for the latter, it seems either becalmed or unsettling.
After two albums spent making puppy eyes from behind their synthesizers, Junior Boys finally decided that the perks of being wallflowers couldn’t quite compete with the allure of the club, and with 2009’s Begone Dull Care, they winced their way onto the dance floor and proved distinctly mediocre at setting bodies in motion. It’s All True takes a sullen half-back step into the Junior Boys’ mood-lit comfort zone, sounding not so much like capitulation than the chastened partying that follows an especially bad hangover: Last night things got a little out of hand, so tonight they’re just having a few friends over to drink and play old dance records. As such, the ‘80s R&B and disco influences from their last outing remain intact, though they’re employed mostly as accent colors to the tense, gray-scaled electro-pop that earned the duo its early critical plaudits.
Junior Boys are up there with Hot Chip as modern masters of the electro-pop craft. Chris White 2011 Ontario’s Junior Boys have been charming us with their soulful brand of electro-pop for a good few years now, but they’ve never sounded as much fun as they do on new album It’s All True. A duo comprised of songwriter Jeremy Greenspan and engineer Matthew Didemus, the Boys’ latest record had its genesis in the unlikely surroundings of Shanghai, where Greenspan recently enjoyed a lengthy sojourn.
After the release of their much-maligned, much-overlooked 2009 album, Begone Dull Care, Junior Boys’ main singer, Jeremy Greenspan, took two months off in China. The brief stay awarded him and other member Matt Didemus time to simply disconnect from the intense mirage of life by ways of a cultural clash. While the move certainly drew inspiration on a sonic level, the electronic duo have taken a brand new direction in what might be their most liveliest set of music to date with It’s All True.