When Junior Boys polished up their synth pop for their sophomore album So This Is Goodbye, it marked a logical next step for the duo, comprised of Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus. It worked well because as they expanded their palette they managed to maintain the same caliber of songwriting as their debut Last Exit. When their third album Begone Dull Care continued on this course on the other hand, the result was something of a letdown. The record was decent enough, but it did signify a lapse in quality when held up to its well-crafted predecessors. That album took the languid nature of Junior Boys’ pop to a level that was just a bit too passive for some; it was as though the duo just wasn’t trying hard enough. But rather than slip into a holding pattern, Junior Boys have ramped their game back up for their latest release, It’s All True. Not to say JBs were in danger of becoming lazy, but indeed, nothing here could be construed as too comfortable.
Roaring out of the gate with “Itchy Fingers,” the duo announces their return with one of the highest energy songs in the band’s catalogue. Synths are practically bouncing off each other, with Greenspan turning in an impassioned performance over top. “Truly Happy Ending” and “ep” also mark vigorous points on the record where Greenspan seems like he’s ready to take his romantic frustrations out on the dance floor. It’s a rewarding change of pace for the duo that really helps bring a newfound since of dynamics and in turn the more unhurried spots offer dreamy respites. “Playtime” works at a familiar JB pace; its slow groove could easily be described as Avalon by way of Air. Sandwiched in between the brisk workouts of “Itchy Fingers” and “Truly Happy Ending,” the song’s patient build feels exceptionally gratifying.
Another area where JBs have gotten particularly skilled is knowing exactly when to stay sparse and when to expand into a lavish lushness. “Itchy Fingers” for one is layered with dynamic synths and guitar work for the majority of the song, but when last verse hits, the majority of the instruments drop out leaving the song’s tense, skittering beat and an anxious Greenspan nearly bare. Of course, it’s a well-worn trick, but JBs have a flair for drawing out just the right elements at necessary moments. Even the nine-plus minute closer “Banana Ripple” is so skillfully executed, not a minute of its running time feels excessive. This was not a record laid down over the course of a week; everything is tweaked with precision. Backing vocals are so scarcely added that they hit with great impact when they show up in spots like the harmony teeming chorus of “The Reservoir” or the buildup at the end of “Playtime”. The album’s only perceivable weak spot would really be the plodding Kosmische tribute “Kick the Can,” which never seems to arrive at its destination.
Junior Boys have always been great with melodies and nothing’s changed as far as that’s concerned. Whether it’s the synth leads at the end of “Playtime” or the sing along choruses of “You’ll Improve Me” or “Truly Happy Ending,” there are earworms scattered all over the record that will be bouncing around your head for days. The choruses frequently right jump out at the listener with incredible force. Rather than crafting an album best suited for make out sessions, It’s All True is often times exhilarating, but it’s an album that strikes incredible balances. Harnessing their strengths while expanding their forte, the Junior Boys are four albums deep and, incredibly enough, still making some of the best music of their career.
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Stream: Junior Boys – “Banana Ripple”