Does anyone actually remember Begone Dull Care? That’s not meant as an attack; it’s a more than solid album in my opinion, but I can’t help but feel it’s more a fact than a generalisation to say that nobody else really cared for the album – fans will always be reverting to their previous album So This Is Goodbye first when talking about Junior Boys. And this is a shame because Begone did have something to offer to those who stuck with it and let the intricacies and subtle arrangements unfurl with a bit of time. Even the most obvious wild cards can go right past you when you’re listening to it with half your attention (live strings, acoustic guitar and a saxophone in the space of three tracks).
With this the case for more than a year the return of Junior Boys wasn’t likely to upset anyone or cause much of a reaction, and if anything there was a little pressure on the Canadian duo to create few sparks that might light a fire and attract people to the band again. Cue “Banana Ripple”: an energetic nine-minute track that only gets better after that initial buzz in the first ten seconds. Heck, there’s even time for a comedown in the final minute as an organ fades away like the party moving onto another town. It was like throwing petrol on the flames making them burn as bright as they did when that electric shock solo which sounded like someone having an epileptic fit next to a theremin hit you with its full force on Goodbye’s “In The Morning.”
But if you compare “Banana Ripple” to the second track on It’s All True, “Playtime,” you’d be convinced that the fire has pretty much gone out and all that was left are a few dying embers as Jeremy Greenspan sings achingly that he “never knows how to…feel.” It’s the pause between the words that’s the most affecting part of the delivery as it reminds you that Greenspan still has a lot of heartache left in him. Despite how cathartic “Banana Ripple” might be for the sheer energy it expels, Greenspan sticks to what he excels at and what he’s spent the last two records mastering, and that’s slow-burning and careful ballads.
I’ll be frank: It’s All True doesn’t come off too well on the first few listens. Sure, there are things to immediately appreciate such as the intricate arrangements or the clean and polished production, but it’s very easy for the album to come off as a languid and vacant affair, and that could simply be down to the lack of energetic numbers here. In fact the only two tracks which seem to boast tempos above 100bpm are those that bookend the album: closing track “Banana Ripple” I’ve already mentioned for all its uppity zeal, and opener “Itchy Fingers,” which is as fidgety as the title suggests. “Itchy Fingers” is actually a bit of a bloomer too that has a lot of energy hiding in it but once it gets ingrained in your head it makes for a rewarding first four minutes.
So much like Begone, It’s All True is a grower – or at least that’s the easy way to describe it. Nothing’s going to jump out at you, but over time you might be a little surprised when you catch a distant background melody playing on one side of your headphones, like at the start of “ep” or the chugging build at the beginning of “You’ll Improve Me.” It’s when multiple moments like these hit that your appreciation of the songs increases. “Kick The Can” is good example: at first it comes off as a strangely unnecessary instrumental track, but with a little dissection you begin to realise there’s whole lot going on underneath the surface, like the rumbling bass and vocal snippets which all make for an interestingly prickly texture and a more satisfying build in the song.
As a duo Junior Boys have come along well and have managed to make their sound more classy with time without sounding cheesy or jeopardising their sincerity. Sure, it’s easy to pine after that undulating dark production that’s all over So This Is Goodbye but that’s part of what separates it from the rest. From then the band’s sound has become cleaner, but for the most part they still have that chilly sadness in the majority of their tracks and if anything that’s down to Greenspan’s vocals. Across the album he goes from sounding hopeless (“I’m making things worse when I just can’t fake it” on “ep”) to the saddest he’s ever been on record (“Born in the flash of a simple mistake” on the lounging vibraphone ballad “Playtime”). He’s a sort of breathless crooner, if you will, but he’s never afraid of putting a soulful punch into the way he sings, like on “Second Chance,” or just having fun (and sounding a bit like a diva) on the falsetto climax of “Banana Ripple.” And because of the clever way he uses his voice he’s able to put strange weight on a simple phrase. On “Second Chance” when he repeats “What’s the truth?” over and over it sounds more like an attack than a question while on “ep” he sings “I love you so bad and I’m gonna repeat it” in a way that goes from sounding like a full on admission of his feelings to something more similar to a threat.
All that said though, I haven’t really made a value judgement on the album itself other than saying it benefits from some time and consideration. If anything, it’s a small step up from and more likely to be remembered than Begone Dull Care, if not for “Banana Ripple” then merely for the way “Playtime” disperses all the energy that the first track spent building up. But, It’s All True still has the most in common with its predecessor: the clean production, the attention to detail, the instrumental experimentation (those Eastern flourishes on the first two tracks are strangely easy to miss like the live instruments on Begone) and careful arrangements are all traits that have been carried forward, but many of those (if not all) are core ingredients in what makes up the music of Junior Boys, and they’ll likely feature on their future releases for many years to come. And if we ever forget the music then at least we’ll always remember the things that made up the band’s sound.
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