I was nervous about this release.
Junior Boys, I am unashamed to admit, are one of the tentpole 3rd Millennium acts of my musical cosmology. Their 2003 debut, Last Exit, is one of my favorite post-Y2K LPs, and their follow-up So This Is Goodbye was just as rich, layered, and intelligent. In the forever-young world of alternative music, they’re like the Elvis Costello of electro, writing wry, richly crafted pop music for and about adults. Their sound is stylish and sophisticated, but not at the expense of warmth or dynamism. The vocals are immaculately realized, both knowing and vulnerable. The beats are just as mesmerizing in headphones as they are on a dance floor — or just as moving on the dance floor as they are in headphones. The first two Junior Boys records are rewarding no matter how much attention you give them, whether you follow closely or listen to them in the background. Unfortunately, their third effort, Begone Dull Care, dropped the ball just enough to suggest that they might have run short on ideas after all. I hoped they wouldn’t recede into obscurity, that this wasn’t a sign of things to come.
Fortunately, It’s All True is every bit as great as their early releases promised. Chalk this one up in the “Win” column. My tentpole is still holding up its end of the circus canopy.
While Begone Dull Care seemed a bit tepid, It’s All True opens with a propulsive bang. “Itchy Fingers” begins with yo-yo bass, brings on the uptempo stagger-step drums, and sets the album off with thick, limber vocals, dynamic production, and a varied sonic landscape. “Playtime” burns slowly with gorgeous, spacious synths and late-night whispers, sounding like a number of excellent Last Exit downtempo jams. “You’ll Improve Me” and “A Truly Happy Ending” build on the funkier tracks of So This Is Goodbye and feature two of the album’s outstanding bass lines. “Second Chance” stands out among a number of tracks that seem to take cues from the dancier early-80s electro acts they clearly admire, while “Kick The Can” draws references from mid-90s IDM. Album closer “Banana Ripple” is one of their most ambitious compositions to date, building steam over its nine-minute runtime and bringing the album to an emphatic end.
Lyrically, Junior Boys bring the pain, but with self-deprecating humor and a minimum of melodrama. Singer Jeremy Greenspan intones his words with maturity, self-awareness, and depth. Scorned-lover koans appear throughout — “But if we made a mistake, then I wanna repeat it”; “you look better if you’re lonely”; “left alone, I’ll destroy almost everything” are just a few examples. Once again, it’s refreshing to hear words that sound like they were written by, for, and about adults (see also: Darnielle, John; Merritt, Stephen).
One of my favorite aspects of Junior Boys production is the combination of well-considered orchestration and open spaces, and that same sense of craft and restraint is the defining trait of It’s All True. Each song explores incredible range and treats the ear to a rich palette of well-spaced sonic elements. Coupled with the well-considered treatment of Greenspan’s voice — doubled, with just-so reverb — the sonic landscape is distinctive, familiar, and a pleasure to inhabit. In an era when many producers are concerned with finely honing the sound of the apocalypse, Greenspan and Matt Didemus’ soundworld feels almost utopian.
I needn’t have worried. It’s All True reminds me of all that is good and holy about one of my favorite contemporary artists. Like the other great Junior Boys records of the last decade, their newest offering transports me to another world, a better world, where being a grown up isn’t boring and having fun crying doesn’t seem strange.