Writing about an album like Waiting Game is one of the best kinds of challenges. Not because the new album by Junior Boys is challenging per se; it’s an altogether pleasant album that serves as a superb meditation on artistic purpose and intent. Released via City Slang, the Ontario duo’s first new album in six years features the sort of reflective experimental synth pop that has been their trademark since they formed two decades ago. It possesses a quiet, intense energy that invites you to sit down and take heed of the duo’s creation.
The challenge arises in how you talk about these songs in ways that appeal to someone who might not speak the language of ambient electronic music. Waiting Game contains very few of the aural hallmarks that modern pop has borrowed from electro. It’s intentionally quieter and more reserved in terms of both tone and volume compared to contemporary production aesthetics. If a listener doesn’t know how to first identify and then make sense of the subtle nuances in these intricate tunes, they would be missing out on a unique listening experience.
To be clear, Junior Boys specifically designed this album to help people slow down. It’s high-quality headphones music. They wanted to help people chill out, relax, and engage with their compositions at face value. Such intentions weren’t pursued out of a sense of pompous intellectualism but because too many people just use music as background noise for their everyday lives. Waiting Game encourages listeners to focus on a single task at hand—enjoying music because it’s music. Following their lead is the best approach here.
The airy and hushed nature of these songs is actually their hidden strength, most evident on standouts such as “Thinking About You Calms Me,” “Yes 2,” and the title track. The creeping synths provide rich layers of eerie keyboard melodies fit for a perennial goth mood, while the oozing bass walks and spectral snatches of snare offer the listener just enough rhythmic urgency and only when absolutely necessary.
Waiting Game serves up a delicious amalgam of leading lights in electronic and ambient music from the last 50 years. It weaves together the early ambient of Brian Eno, the ‘80s ambiance of Wendy Carlos’ TRON soundtrack, snippets of ‘90s techno, and 21st century compositional electro. Moreover, it serves as a reminder that Junior Boys know exactly when to rise up and embrace pop sensibilities while still preferring to explore the outer edges of production techniques. Thus, curious first-timers would benefit by knowing that this record is a potent gateway for a deeper investigation into artists and sounds they might have missed over the years. It’s a challenge worth embracing.
Label: City Slang