Junior Boys
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Junior Boys



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The best kept secret in music


"So This is Goodbye"

Junior Boys
So This Is Goodbye
[Domino; 2006]
Rating: 9.0

My first introduction to Junior Boys was in autumn 2003. I had taken half a year off to travel alone, and I'd just left London, where a friend had given me a copy of the Birthday EP. I'd heard the single once or twice in passing before, but my first meaningful interaction with it wasn't until later that week, on a nine-hour night train ride from Austria to Budapest. I listened to the whole EP on repeat that night, its brittle rhythms and gleaming synths coalescing with the dark shapes and city lights in constant renewal on the other side of my window, the unfamiliarity of my surroundings giving it all a further resonance.
There are special songs, and there are special memories, but if you're one of those nostalgia-bitten people for whom neither seem quite vivid enough on their own, nothing matches what happens when the two dovetail. The beauty of these moments is they refuse to be architected-- we can't force them any more than we can explain them. And while the Junior Boys aren't magicians, they speak the language of that magic as well as anyone making music today. (In the band's official bio, K-Punk blog's Mark Fisher writes that So This Is Goodbye is a "travel sick" record-- I'd go him one further and say that specific sensation of travel sickness is at stake every time they set out to make music.)

Just their second full-length overall, So This Is Goodbye isn't just an improbable notch above 2004's Last Exit-- it's also among the best records you'll hear all year. The first complete album made by vocalist Jeremy Greenspan without the aid of founding member and presumed rhythmic engine Johnny Dark, it finds the Boys (now rounded out by onetime engineer Matthew Didemus) working within comparatively streamlined song structures, the rhythmic capriciousness that so strongly informed their debut all but erased from the whiteboard. And yet, despite this radical formal departure, Goodbye draws out so many of the same sensations and colors that it feels like a natural next step. If anything, the absence of those slippery rhythm tracks puts the focus even more squarely on Greenspan, who delivers with a record full of elegant melodies.

Beyond the glowing synthlines, frigid percussions, and Greenspan's marvellously tensile voice (imagine Ben Gibbard with much higher cheekbones), the Junior Boys' greatest weapon is space. With an economical 10 tracks spread out over nearly 49 minutes, the pop in So This Is Goodbye is hardly immediate; instead, its songs are allowed to percolate and unfurl. On paper, especially to the average thrillseeker, that might sound a bit offputting, but it's not like these are all ballads, either. Opener "Double Shadow" begins with a gentle pattering sequence of synth beads but blooms into a smartly melodic slice of electrohouse that Booka Shade would be proud to call their own. Elsewhere, with its serrated analog lead, gushy pads, skipping rhythms, and pressurized vocals, "The Equalizer" accounts for one of the album's finest arrangements, while the uptempo first single "In The Morning" finds Greenspan merging icy r&b with 4AD's warm guitar sounds to beautiful effect.

In the end, though, the biggest goosebumps come courtesy of the slowburners. The penultimate track "When No One Cares" recasts the Sinatra standard as a wobbly space ballad, closer "FM" crosses the finish line in an unhurried cloud of staccato arpeggios and warm harmonies, and standout "Count Souvenirs" marries liquefied synths and keening minor-key melodies with the album's starkest imagery ("Empty stalls and shopping malls that we'll never see again/ Hotel lobbies like painful hobbies that linger on"). Finally, the album’s title track finds Greenspan singing: "So this is goodbye, no need to lie/ This creature of pain, has found me again/ So this is goodbye," possibly in reference to Dark, or to his departed former label head Nick Kilroy, or to someone else entirely. It's the album's heartbeat, as well as one of its weightiest moments-- an acknowledgment that in times of despair the best course of action is often just to keep moving. Wanderlust never sounded so good.

-Mark Pytlik, August 10, 2006

- Pitchfork

"4 stars"

'This debut presents a rarity-a genuinely new sound (4 Stars)'

- Blender

"Dance Album of the Month"

'Dance Album of the Month ***** 5 stars' - Mojo


'Junior Boys blenderize the long-underground sound of electro with the overground sound of Me Decade bands such as Talk Talk -- the end result is something fresh.' - Rolling Stone


'A suave debut album... synthesizes different iterations of electronica: dubby microhouse, old-fashioned new wave, futuristic R & B.'
- New York Times

"Top album"

Using the one-two punch of the iciest beats this side of winter and Jeremy Greenspan’s warm, pining voice, a journey through the world of Junior Boys is an examination of the brave faces we put on in spite of our inner anxiety. Each bitter thump forces us inside ourselves, while the brittle urgent harmonies surgically pull out our true feelings. Though it may feel emotionally inaccessible, it is a guarantee that you’ll either feel completely drained or elated at journey’s end, proving this is necessary aural therapy. Indeed, the boys are not just all right, they’re absolutely amazing. Chris Whibbs
- Exclaim!


Still working on that hot first release.


Feeling a bit camera shy


When I first met Jeremy Greenspan in 1995, he was the personification of a pop cultural crisis. Shaped by Pop right down to the core of his being, steeped in Pop history, it seemed that there was only one thing he should be doing: making Pop records. But what point was there continuing to make Pop music if everything had already been done?

Jeremy temporarily fled Canada, looking for an escape from the nostalgic impasse of North American Pop, and he found it, initially, in the Predator-stalked cityscapes of Jungle, the UK underground's "Sound of Now" at the time. While he was in the UK, Jeremy also became acquainted with one of Jungle's distant precursors, John Foxx's 1980 LP, Metamatic. The debut solo album from the departed singer of Ultravox felt like a lost future, its sound evoking not the swamps and deltas of blues and rock, but the underpasses, high rise apartment blocks and plazas of the contemporary urban environment. ¬

Then, suddenly, Pop jolted itself out of nostalgic rewind, and found Now again. In the US, Timbaland's hiccuping hip-hop infected the mainstream with a cartoon cubism while, in the UK, Speed Garage had mutated into a bizarrely utopian strain of Pop - characterized by chirruping pitched-up vocals and deep digital bass – called 2-step.

All of this filtered into the early recordings Jeremy made back in Canada (with then-partner Johnny Dark) as Junior Boys. These songs had the surprise of the inevitable. Who else would have thought of blending rhythmic psychedelia and glacial Foxxoid electronics with a late-night voice weakened by vulnerability and longing? No-one: but the combination made an uncanny kind of sense. The late Nick Kilroy thought so, and he released Junior Boys' debut album, Last Exit, on his own label, KIN. By now, Johnny Dark had left (his brilliant 'nu-step' EP is about to be released by KIN), and Jeremy was assisted by his long-time friend, producer Matt Didemus.

The obvious difference between So This is Goodbye and its predecessor is the absence of the tricksy stop-start stutter beats on the new record. If Junior Boys' inventiveness is no longer concentrated on beats, that is a reflection as much of a decline of the surrounding Pop context as it a sign of their newfound taste for rhythmic classicism. In the period since the first LP, both hip hop and British garage have taken a turn for the brutalist and Pop has consequently been deprived of any modernizing force. Timbaland's beat surrealism became water-treading repetition years ago, displaced by the ultra-realist thuggish plod of corporate hip hop and the ugly carnality of Crunk; 2-Step's 'feminine pressure' has long since been crushed by the testosterone-saturated bluntness of Grime. That skunk-fugged heaviness remains the antipodes of the Junior Boys' cyberian, etherealized, plaintive physicality; listening to the Junior Boys after hearing Grime or dubstep is like walking out of a locker room thick with dope smoke out onto a Caspar David Friedrich mountain: a lung-cleansing experience.

It is significant that those other ultra-heterosexual post-Garage musics should have bred out the influence of House whereas Junior Boys return to it so emphatically. House references are everywhere on So This is Goodbye: the title track is gorgeously, oneirically poised on a honeyed Mr. Fingers' plateau, and it is not only the arpeggiated synth which drives many of the tracks that is reminiscent of Jamie Principle. Yet, the album does not sound either like House or like most previous attempts to synthesize Pop with House. So This is Goodbye is like House if it had started in the wilds of Canada rather the clubs of Chicago.

The removal of rhythmic tricksiness perhaps also indicates something of the scale of Junior Boys' Pop ambitions, which are best seen as the pioneering of a New MOR rather than another attempt at New Pop. Junior Boys' songs have always had more in common with a certain type of contemporary composer - Hall and Oates, Prefab Sprout, The Blue Nile, Lindsay Buckingham. Modernist MOR is the opposite of the discredited strategy of entryism: it doesn't 'conform to deform.' Rather, it locates the alien right in the heart of the familiar. The problem with current Pop is not the predominance of MOR, but the fact that MOR has been corrupted by the wheedling whine of Indie authenticity. In any just world, Junior Boys, not the drippy moroseness of James Blunt nor the earthy earnestness of KT Tunstall, would be the globally dominant MOR brand in 2006.

Ultimately, though, So This is Goodbye sounds more middle of the tundra than middle of the road. It's as if Junior Boys' journey into North America Endless has continued beyond the late-night freeways of Last Exit. It's like the first LP's city lights and Edward Hopper coffee bars have receded and we're taken out, beyond even the small towns, into the depopulated wildernesses of Canada's Northern Territories. Or rather, it's as if those wildernesses h