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Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye

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Artist: Junior Boys

Album: So This Is Goodbye

Label: Domino

Review date: Jul. 16, 2006

When Hamilton, Ontario, duo Junior Boys released their debut album, Last Exit, in 2004, they became the vanguard of electro-pop. Lauded as an unprecedented meeting of Timbaland’s cosmic funk and David Sylvian’s synth elegance by more than a few critics, Junior Boys - whose only warning shots were a couple of EPs on the fledgling KIN label - were one of the year’s best zero-to-hero stories. Riding their success to a record deal with indie powerhouse Domino Records, Junior Boys now offer up their second helping, So This Is Goodbye. It finds Junior Boys exploring similar territory, wrestling with tensions between the focus and scope of their dance music synthesis, while refining its gentle and complex moods.

Part of Last Exit’s success was in its hesitation and frailty; Greenspan sang tentatively over beats that stutter-stepped and backtracked. When the nervous and unassuming find success, that hesitation becomes compromised. As a result, So This Is Goodbye is an audibly more confident record than its predecessor. There’s no more uncertainty in the beat, it now serves as a propelling force, often taking cues from micro-haus’s rhythmic template. And while Last Exit featured Greenspan’s vocals nailing the complex melancholy of Morrissey, tracks like “Counting Souvenirs” on So This Is Goodbye see him now mastering that icon’s vocal theatrics. The downside of this confidence is that fragility now seems more contrived - it reaches its apex with the rendition of the Sinatra standard “When No One Cares.” It sounds more vulnerable than the original, but the accompaniment - an obvious, though gorgeous, processed piano arrangement - fails to conjure the contrast that made the emotional moments of Last Exit so striking.

This newfound confidence doesn’t lead to bombast; in many ways So This Is Goodbye is a gentler record than its predecessor. The sharp snares that gave Last Exit its click-clack are used sparingly, giving way to muffled bass drum kicks and echoing toms. Overall, the sound has shifted slightly towards the low end, leaving absences of melody and treble that lead to sparse, wintry soundscapes. This space cuts down on some of Last Exit’s anxiety, allowing So This Is Goodbye to be more at ease with its beauty. Even when the pace gets a bit busier, as is the case on the stunning Andi Toma-assisted single “In The Morning,” Junior Boys still exhibit a calming sweetness, layering flighty synth-arpeggios over the shifty snare hits.

It’s appropriate that the album titles of a group as dynamic as Junior Boys allude to departure and progression. Last Exit was the Junior Boys’ departure from their electro-pop contemporaries, a unique collection of songs exceedingly literate in the many manifestations of electronica and hip-hop. So This Is Goodbye is more of a progression to a refined, cohesive version of that amalgamation. The results may not be as jarring as its predecessor - the excitement of their original experimentation is gone - but ultimately they’re more satisfying, indicative of a duo much more comfortable with their vision.

By Bob Hammond

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