Junior Boys

So This is Goodbye

(Domino; 2006)

By Matt Stephens | 18 September 2007

We Canadians are versatile folk, musically speaking. Take a look at the current crop of hip hosers currently at the vanguard of indie rock, and you’ll find an appealingly diverse roster. You’ve got power-pop love-ins like the New Pornographers, art school circle jerks like Broken Social Scene, poetic, edifying rock like Wolf Parade...well, the list goes on from there, and it hardly bears mentioning to anyone reading this site. None of these bands sound much of anything like each other, but each seems about one “Float On”-level single away from real stardom.

One thing that seems conspicuously absent to me in most of this forward-looking batch of artists, is, well, sex. Canada, for all the clumsy stereotypes thrown her way, really isn’t a very sexy nation. Sure, Emily Haines tries her damndest to make ‘em sweat, but Metric’s brand of sex is akin to a pair of excited 15 year-olds fumbling their way to second base while mom makes dinner -- every single might as well last 45 seconds. Much harder to find is anything evoking a more composed and slow-burning kind of sexual experience, in Canada or elsewhere in the indie stratosphere, which is what makes Hamilton’s (!) Junior Boys such a treat.

Their sophomore effort So This is Goodbye, is surely the album I’ll gravitate towards if I’m lucky enough to find myself in such a situation in the near future. The album doesn’t deviate much from the blueprint set down by their promising 2004 debut Last Exit (2004): understated electro-pop songs that move at a stately if sinister pace, all kept afloat by songwriter Jeremy Greenspan’s breathy coos. Yet this time around, it all holds together much more consistently – the songs are sleeker, usually quieter, with an almost Spoon-worthy economy of sound. Better still, So This is Goodbye offers Greenspan’s increasingly rich songs more room to feel themselves out, giving the album an emotional pull largely absent from its predecessor.

As if its title isn’t enough of a giveaway, Goodbye makes very little bones about being a break-up record, and it’s a more than worthy addition to the canon. The seething lead-off track “Double Shadow” sets the tone, with Greenspan grimly deadpanning “you’re two-faced” like he’s hiding a gun in his trenchcoat. He doesn’t stay mad for long, though; by the point the heartbreaking “First Time” rolls around, he’s begging (with as much melancholy as his muffled tenor allows him) to “escape from the lights/away from the nights we’ve known.” Standout “Count Souveneirs” and insistent first single “In the Morning” toe the line between vitriol and remorse in a way few other artists can compete with – when Greenspan sings “there’s a million names to choose from / you don’t care, just take one” it sounds as much like a concession as it does an accusation.

The second half is just as consistent. The searching title track accepts cruel finality with a stunning, funky-ass bass line (courtesy, of course, of a laptop), and the wrenching “FM” brings the album to a close just as it hits its emotional peak; Greenspan keeps the rhythm track as sparse as he can manage (not really that sparse, but still) while he sings “you’ll forget me soon I fear / through the crooked roads / and the static codes,” before wordlessly crooning the instantly memorable chorus. It’s one of the few moments of unadulterated sadness to be found here, and for me the best song Greenspan yet recorded.

Not that the rest of these songs don’t put up a solid fight. While This is Goodbye does suffer, like Last Exit, from being a little too consistent (there’s very little variation in tempo or arrangement, or theme for that matter), it's as cohesive a listening experience as almost any album I’ve heard this year -- the rare disc that you can put on during sex one week, then cry to the next week after she dumps you. Greenspan has outdone himself this time around, and though he seems to have taken his chosen sonic template as far as it can go, he sounds like a guy that’s probably still full of surprises. Which, for a stocky dude from Hamilton making the sexiest and saddest laptop pop around, is something of an inevitability, I guess.