Junior Boys

It's All True

(Domino; 2011)

By Ryan Pratt | 6 July 2011

Junior Boys, being the luxurious beat-makers they are, make it easy to view even a record so bereft of ideas as Begone Dull Care with rose-tinted shades. That’s precisely what most critics must’ve been wearing in the spring of 2009 when the Hamilton duo’s third record sleepwalked through generous reviews before dissipating into thin air. Recognizably watered down in comparison to their prior full-lengths but bearing a scattershot of cherished Junior Boys trademarks, Begone Dull Care gave credence to the ruse that an album that sounds engaging must be engaging. And because the Hamilton-based duo have always excelled at fusing elusive songwriting to seductive electro-pop in equal, inseparable rations, the sonic achievement behind a track like “Parallel Lines” effectively disguised the fact that, compositionally, Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus seemed lost in their own sound.

As with any impenetrable record which saddles its spot on a discography like an upside-down question mark, Begone Dull Care‘s intrigues still welcome the odd revisit. But what heartens those listens—the optimistic hope of finally detecting the puzzle’s missing piece—would become pointless if Junior Boys’ follow-up were to repeat the same missteps. Because then it isn’t an oddity, it’s a slope. The first slice from It’s All True insists on the latter route; chasing the same frivolous hooks that permeated their 2009 effort, “Itchy Fingers” steers their micro-beat palette toward the hypertensive. Sacrificed amid this acceleration of pop tendencies are the thick clouds of mood that surrounded Last Exit (2004) and, to a lesser degree, So This Is Goodbye (2006) like romantic cloak-and-daggers. In other words: for a moment, Junior Boys settle for channeling Chromeo.

Thank God for “Playtime” then, a candle-lit mood-piece that carefully burns to smolder and reignites what’s been endangered on Junior Boys’ recent output: mystique. Reaching back to the desolate vibe of “Three Words,” a track that acted as glue for Last Exit‘s constant craving, but adding some unexpected flourishes (think Andreas Vollenweider’s electric harp), “Playtime” sort of restarts the record—establishing real mood before raising the stakes. Subsequent highlights cleverly touch on new facets to their renowned sound: “Second Chance” benefits from its orbit of space-disco beats and proggy guitar bits whilst “Kick the Can” bubbles over as the most techno-oriented dance track they’ve have put to tape. Baby-steps beyond their comfort zone only render “You’ll Improve Me” all the more classic, with the duo anchoring unsettled atmospherics to a rock-solid rhythm and chorus, together shifting the track’s focus from the dancefloor’s spotlight to its neglected afterglow. There was a time when Junior Boys’ songs were meant for lonely corners and, with It’s All True, Greenspan and Didemus have remembered just that.

Besides relocating their verve for songwriting and showing a willingness to take mild risks instrumentally, it’s Jeremy Greenspan’s vocal awareness that ensures Junior Boys have fully rebounded. His increasingly confident timbre, which risked streamlining “Itchy Fingers” into the linear mould of an average pop song, instead croons playfully around the beat, offsetting the groove with his relationship pitfalls on “A Truly Happy Ending.” And when Greenspan does step it up a notch, it results in “The Reservoir,” a percolating synth-pop ode that soars on his graceful chorus.

By the time epic finale “Banana Ripple” has reached its second rave-up peak, It’s All True has pretty much victory-lapped around its return-to-form intentions. Peculiarities remain—in the way black-sheep track “Kick the Can” almost acts as an intermezzo for the album’s back-end—but they’re further proof that Junior Boys aren’t over-thinking (and thereby over-producing) ideas anymore. By no means is It’s All True a masterpiece; the duo don’t stick their necks out enough to entertain that notion. But by creating a palpable tension between smart songwriting and their knack for texture, Junior Boys have pulled a legacy back from the brink of indifference.

:: myspace.com/juniorboys