In Miranda July’s Me And You And Everyone We Know, John Hawkes tells a shoe department coworker “I want to be swept off my feet.” To your surprise, maybe, it was a seminal moment in movies—until then no straight male character ever had the balls to say that. (Gary Cooper ruined romantic rudiments for all of us; by the way don’t mistake being swept off your feet for being seduced.) Part of Jeremy Greenspan’s gift as a lyricist—and as a vocalist, frankly—is his willingness to blush. Junior Boys records, all frigid analogues and exposed erogenous zones, are more sustained swoons than they are seductions. Begone Dull Care, their third and best LP, does everything but fall through its clothes. Pieces of the people they love are all over it: mid-period New Order, AM soul, the skeletal radio-hop the Neptunes destroyed earlier this decade—”Bits ‘N’ Pieces” even sounds like Cut Copy a little. But they really do sound like no one else
Begone Dull Care contains their beefiest tracks yet, although not in terms of length (run times include 6:31, 6:32, and an even 7 minutes). They’re just filled out more—the synth boxes are more robust, the background chatter more detailed. Even the vocals are bigger, as Greenspan ditches some of his trademark diffidence. A big similarity Junior Boys have to New Order is Greenspan’s reticence as a singer; Bernard Sumner didn’t like singing loud, either. New Order always insisted Steven Morris was the best singer of the lot and maybe Didemus privately outthroats Greenspan behind all that machinery. They’re not saying. At any rate a line from “Bits & Pieces” deeply iterates Greenspan’s vocal philosophy: “I say it better when the lights are out.” Perhaps more telling is the next line, though: “practice is over.” By the time he gets to “Hazel” he finally sounds like he’s having fun over some of their whizziest Philly-cheesesteak lyrics yet: “hit me with those hazel eyes.”
“Parallel Lines,” the opener, might be the best Junior Boys track yet. A little industrial, mainly because of the smashy drums, it’s filled with ‘odds, ends, final amends’ and shimmering Euclidean angles and a muted trumpet and, at 4:07,a honking isolated keyboard riff straight off the margins of Low-Life. For six and a half minutes, “Parallel Lines” works you. (Coincidentally the next song is called “Work” and revisits some of the loopier stuff off So This Is Goodbye, Dull Care‘s immediate predecessor that for all its beauty is probably doomed to the permanent middle, Last Exit being colder but better.) The title track sways on a calliope-like chorus before diffusing into something that sounds an awful lot like steel guitar—and said steel-guitar-like effect is so moving it’s absolutely migratory. When you consider that Greenspan and Didemus were never in the same room during this process (Didemus now works out of Berlin), things tumesce even further. Take a fully-functional New Romantic ballad like “Sneak A Picture,” with its warm tones, exquisite grace, and a completely exhausted sax solo to which your girlfriend is probably making out with some dbag right now and try to overrate their conjoined witchery.
“The Animator,” probably a slight nod to the stop-motion short the album’s named after, finds Greenspan trying to be cogent about male/female linguistics and failing adorably: “in through your hands/ out your mouth/ baby let it out” is another way of saying he’s as tongue-tied as she is, so it’s okay. On “Where It’s At” he’s even more rueful: “men like me don’t know how to behave at all” (“women like you know what your heart’s for,” however.) All the perfectly roiled synths, meanwhile, make you feel like you’re being rocked in a skiff, or maybe a basket in the bulrushes.
It might be a dumb way to end a review, but Junior Boys are on kind of a serious roll. Besides their addition to the high-end mixtape series Body Language and occasional killer remixes for people like Stars and Sally Shapiro, they’ve in three different years now made one of the best dance records, one of the best makeout records, and one of the best breakup records. In each case, obviously, it’s been the same record. Begone Dull Care fully extends the minimal electro Jeremy Greenspan and Matthew Didemus have plotted to such beautiful extremes already.
Owusu & Hannibal – Living With Owusu & Hannibal
New Order – Low Life
Postal Service – Give Up