Fairly or not, electronic music has regularly taken a bad rap for its assumed emotional detachment. While that may very well be true at times—one need look no further than seminal group Kraftwerk—it seems a latent prejudice still exists, especially here in the guitar-totin' South, that the use of a synthesizer strips music of the quirks and blemishes of traditional instruments that provide that human fingerprint. In a way, this is understandable, as countless cliched dance clubs seem to simulate that missing feeling through sheer volume, elaborate lighting or (god no) tireless dance-a-thons.
It's not surprising, then, that Junior Boys took the exact opposite approach to their music. Over the course of three masterful albums, the Ontario duo has specialized in patient, soft-spoken electro-pop that often feels far more intimate than any coffeehouse singer-songwriter. Their latest effort, Begone Dull Care, practically bleeds bittersweet R&B and elegant nü-disco, while still steeped in the skittering beats, drippy synths and stray sneaker squeaks that are so closely associated with IDM groups.
Though now living on opposite sides of the globe—vocalist Jeremy Greenspan in Canada and engineer Matt Didemus newly settled in Berlin—they refused to resort to long-distance file swapping as they pieced together the songs. To retain that vital personal touch that's so integral to their sound, the pair saved the songwriting only for those times when they could sit down face-to-face in their respective homes. As a result, Begone Dull Care is a wholly sensual album, due in equal parts to Greenspan's breathy, wet-tongue croon and Didemus' meticulously sequenced digital pinpoints. Vaguely sexual undertones permeate the lyrics, yet much of the album has to do with what the Junior Boys know best: writing and performing music.
"I do that stuff on purpose—songs that are written ambiguously sexual, but not really," Greenspan tells the Scene. "There's no conscious effort to make sexy music...but it has this contextualization where you could read it that way."
One of the album's most memorable choruses belongs to "Bits & Pieces," which repeats over porn-friendly techno beats, "I see it better when the lights are on," before wiping away any innuendo later with the obvious verse, "Remember the words, the lighting cues / It's all up to you," until the song slides into an intentionally cheesy sax solo. Toward the end of the track, Greenspan even preempts the first line with a halted, "I see it," as if jumping into the line early and quickly correcting himself, which sets himself up for the chorus' ironic conclusion, " 'Cause practice is over."
Arguably the album's finest moment, "Dull to Pause" is also one of Junior Boys' most versatile tracks yet, as it bounces sweetly into a perky albeit highly processed acoustic melody—floating somewhere between a supple banjo and crisp classical guitar—measured by tight digital patters. Set against a lovelorn bridge mid-song about not wanting to say goodnight, Greenspan reflects on the often mundane process of writing music: "I was pacing around / and just recording it down / I had nothing to say / I'm done for another day."
Though such behind-the-scenes musings could come off as self-absorbed, the double entendre that runs through so much of the album, coupled with most of the lyrics' nonspecific content, throws the focus back on the songs' moody texture. More than that, it lends the album a vulnerability that few electronic groups dare.
Apart from the recording itself, converting such painstaking music to a live setting has been a perpetual struggle, as opening act Max Tundra can also attest. "I think a lot of electronic bands are very boring when they're live," says Ben Jacobs, the one-man machine behind the name, who's on tour behind last year's Parallax Error Beheads You. "They just kind of stand there. Just a guy with a laptop, usually, like he's checking his email. It just seems like smoker's music."
"It's difficult for a group like us where playing [as a band] was not an actual part of the creation of the music," adds Greenspan. "You have to make a decision: You either play the whole thing live, or you just press play on a laptop and dance around."
Actually, it's that's off-the-cuff edge that provides much of the impetus for Junior Boys' music in the first place. "That, for me, is what making electronic music is all about: randomly playing with machines and technology, and finding some interesting thing, something nuanced that's not pre-conceptualized," Greenspan says. "Just nurturing all those weird mistakes."
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