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Junior Boys - It’s All True

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Artist: Junior Boys

Album: It’s All True

Label: Domino

Review date: Jul. 8, 2011

Junior Boys should be an institution at this point: 12 years, four studio LPs and a lion’s share of critical acclaim. And yet, I get this feeling that Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus still haven’t reached the apex of their career. Let’s look back: An undeniable production prowess paired with subtle pop scripting made them a consistent critic fav from the get-go. The Boys’ 2004 LP, Last Exit, was an impressionable anthology of early songs from 1999-2003, its R&B intersecting with techno teemed with atmosphere. The 2006 follow-up So This Is Goodbye was even better, a cohesive record front-to-back, splitting the difference between bumbed-out break-up soundtracks and blue-eyed synth pop. It’s still the high watermark for the group.

When the band’s third LP, Begone Dull Care, was regarded as a misstep by fans and critics, Greenspan felt the need to regroup and took a sojourn in Shanghai while visiting his sister. There he began writing and recording It’s All True, and eventually reconvened with Berlin-based Didemus back in their hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. The result is a sharp return to form that’s reminiscent of the Boys’ first two releases.

As ever, Junior Boys come off with icy sophistication, from their meticulous pop arrangements down the pacing of the album itself. Starting things off is “Itchy Fingers,” composed of intricate woven synth lines, hyperactive drum programming and slick half-time breakdowns, followed by a hard, 90-degree turn on “Playtime,” an absolute stunner slowed down to a waltzy crawl. This is where short attention spans will get flushed, and those still inclined to digest albums in one sitting will be rewarded. Awkward pacing though it may seem, the sequence starts to feel more assured on successive spins, once you know where the bumps lay.

Greenspan’s words are drawn from the same well: Relationship woes still provide lyrics like “‘Cause this fight’s forever / If it breaks off, there’ll be nothing to do,” mirroring Last Exit‘s “Teach Me How To Fight.” His post-modern lyrical flashes are often oblique and dark, but here they loosely gel with an idea of authenticity: “Remember you’re a lousy faker / 10 years ago at least, just a burned-out raver,” on “Second Chance” and “Well, should I try to put it off / Cuz when I try to be cool, well, I just can’t fake it / I’m making things worse when I just can’t fake it,” on “ep.” The album title, It’s All True, references an unfinished Orson Welles film of the same name, but it also recalls F For Fake, Welles’ last major flic that dealt with forgery in the art world. The self-reflexive questioning of “truth” in art seen on those films carries over to the band’s view of where/how they fit into the aging music industry (ostensibly one filled with inauthentic works) and among aging friends.

The most commonly used adjective to describe Greenspan’s vocals is “whispery,” followed by “breathy” (they’re still accurate here), and, if anything, they’ve come to define his style at this point. It actually works quite well at rendering a range of emotional cues, though, from borderline cloy to introspective to snarky — it’s far from one-dimensional. On “You’ll Improve Me,” his falsetto and airy words fit snuggly into the groove, made even more atmospheric with chamber-y reverb and echoes. He’s stated in the past that he prefers an almost “one take” approach to vocals (in the tradition of Scott Walker) to keep things sounding urgent — and it’s evident on the Chicago house-postured minimalism of “Kick The Can.”

“Banana Ripple” is the lofty first single, stacked quite high with nine minutes of spongy synths, vintage drum kits, guitar and studio trickery. It’s quite grandiose — they apparently mixed-down almost 40 vocal tracks for the song, with another 100-plus for instrumentation — and it sounds exactly as you’d expect: monumental dance pop, an epic kitchen-sink album closer. Classic house build-ups, vocal refrains, a propulsive 120bpm rhythm — they’re all there, ready for dancefloors and turntable platters.

This is all part the record’s appeal: It’s fussy and jammed with incredibly detailed analogue sounds of ‘80s dance/R&B tropes, but nearly impossible to trace. It’s All True is exactly what mature dance pop should sound like in 2011.

By Jon Dempsey

Other Reviews of Junior Boys

Birthday/Last Exit EP

Last Exit

So This Is Goodbye

Dead Horse

Body Language Six

Begone Dull Care

Read More

View all articles by Jon Dempsey

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