Junior Boys It’s All True (Domino)
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. But JBs’ music was presented as if it were something fragile, homespun, made on a shoestring, full of negative space where the pop fizziness should be. It added an interesting, affecting friction to a sound that had defined glossy marquee pop around the turn of the millennium, like the difference between a love song written to please millions and one aimed at a special someone.
Pretty quickly, though, on 2006′s So This Is Goodbye and especially 2009′s Begone Dull Care, the JBs music started sounding like a million bucks, whatever it cost to make. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. There had always been an element of slick soulful 1980s synth-pop in their sound, and when they jettisoned the new millennium R&B touches, it was shocking and enjoyable to find out they actually had the production chops to mimic that 1980s opulence. But what about that one-on-one intimacy that had originally made them stand out? In that sense, It‘s All True sounds like the album the Junior Boys have been moving toward their whole career. It’s got the same low-key mixtape-from-a-lover charm as Last Exit, but sacrifices none of the appealing slickness of their last few albums.
Opener “Itchy Fingers” is actually a bit of bait-and-switch. It’s the most deliriously dense tune on the album– multiple basslines, stuttering R&B breakdowns, Art of Noise vocal stabs, zapping rave riffs, gleaming Japan/Duran-style guitar– a master class in just how much you can squeeze into a track without its seeming cluttered. It recalls the carefully plotted textural overload of UK funky producers like Ill Blu, even if the feel is still more disco-house smooth than frantic Jamaican ragga. But “Itchy Fingers” is more or less an anomaly. It‘s All True mostly dials back the sonic excess in favor of more streamlined grooves. Thankfully, the album also corrects the lack-of-hooks problem that occasionally plagued Begone Dull Care. “Second Chance” is still stuffed with whirling video game noises, and some glorious creamy vocal multi-tracking, but what stands out on first listen is that naggingly catchy bassline. Plus Jeremy Greenspan gives us his best batch of choruses in quite a while, and good thing, too. While this is still headphone music par excellence, all those gleaming little sonic gewgaws and sneaky ear-worm off-beats are often pushed to the back of the mix, meaning the bright lounging-on-the-yacht electro hooks and Greenspan’s voice both have to do a lot more work here.
Greenspan’s singing is the best it’s ever been on It‘s All True, proving the band’s mixing desk skills aren’t the only thing that’s matured over the past eight years. Where he initially sounded wounded and winsome, almost hiding his voice behind the stark beats, here he displays a bouncy, strident sense of playfulness. Just check the ecstatic peak-after-peak outro on “Banana Ripple“. There’s also a new subtlety to his breathy just-out-of-bed tenderness that weirdly reminds me of Sam Prekop, no faint praise considering Prekop is the reigning master of this sort of thing. And speaking of subtle and tender, along with the large helpings of dancefloor joy, some of the album’s most immediately arresting moments are its sparsest and most fragile. “The Reservoir” is an ultra-delicate experiment in seeing how far a rhythm can be stripped back– something that would have fit perfectly on Last Exit, though it sounds far richer here, with Greenspan pulling off a falsetto he never would have been able to in the old days. Despite a few curveballs, like the pinpoint precise homage to Kraftwerk and the bleep techno Kraftwerk inspired on “Kick the Can”, there’s not much “new” here if you’ve been following the Junior Boys’ sound over the last decade. But considering they seem to have perfected that sound here, it’s hard not to feel like they should keep making albums like It‘s All True for a long, long time.
— Jess Harvell, June 13, 2011