A trendy New York disco. A fashion runway in Milan. Any place that’s sleek, sexy and with the slightest chill—these are all places you’d expect to hear the new-wave leaning dance pop of Canadian trio Junior Boys. But in the apartment of a shaggy kid like myself? It hardly sounds logical, but Junior Boys have the rare quality to take any mundane setting and make it more stylish and seductive within mere seconds of their first throbbing beat. After releasing two well-received EPs, the Hamilton, Ontario group has returned with a stunning full-length that’s as graceful and ethereal as it is danceable and nostalgic.
The group states in their bio that “making music that is explicitly retro or nostalgic isn’t all that exciting,” but they do believe that “you could produce really exciting fresh pop music that is unapologetically synthetic.” And upon listening to Last Exit, the band’s first proper album, it’s apparent that that’s exactly what they set out to accomplish.
On the one hand, much of Last Exit has an explicitly retro quality. Take the single “Birthday” for example. The keyboard hook seems to have been pulled from from New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies, while the vocals recall OMD or Talk Talk. If it were released in 1983, it would have been a hit.
But on the other hand, Last Exit is shockingly futuristic. “High Come Down” and “Teach Me How to Fight” are built upon Timbaland-style stutter step beats. Yet the music and vocals in both songs are too dreamy and ethereal to bear any resemblance to hip-hop, not to mention they both still contain elements of early ’80s synth-pop, as well.
That’s the funny thing about Junior Boys. They display a strong ’80s influence, but are thoroughly steeped in modernism. And yet, somehow, despite how synthetic and electronic the album is, it sounds strangely warm and human. Leadoff track “More Than Real” is a fun, catchy dance number, with a pick-up line for a chorus: “You know I’ve got your number/I even know your street” The second track, “Bellona,” really can’t be separated from the aforementioned imagery of a fashion runway, as its beat conveys a certain sense of confidence and swagger, which couples well with Prada and Versace. “Under the Sun” is thoroughly oversexed, layered with sleazy soft-porn beats, oozing fogs of low end and breathy vocals. And the previously mentioned “Teach Me How to Fight” is the most anthemic and beautiful track on the album.
There’s no easy way to categorize Junior Boys, as their range of influences spans as wide as the history of the synthesizer itself. With a little new wave here, some hip-hop there and just a dab of Kraftwerk, this Canadian trio has made the dance album of the year. And it just might find an audience in someplace outside of a nightclub.
New Order – Power, Corruption and Lies
Japan – Gentlemen Take Polaroids
The Notwist – Neon Golden
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.