Junior Boys: So This is Goodbye

Much has changed in the Junior Boys' world since its 2004 debut Last Exit. On So This Is Goodbye, the Hamilton, Ontario-based outfit is no longer helmed by vocalist Jeremy Greenspan and Johnny Dark but instead Greenspan and long-time friend and producer Matthew Didemus. The bold 2-step rhythmic dimension of the debut is gone, replaced by a more straightforward electro-techno feel and the balance noticeably tipped towards a more classic style of song construction. Despite that shift, Greenspan's voice—plaintive, ethereal, wistful, vulnerable—effects so complete a bridge between the albums their differences are less conspicuous. Thematically, the album fixates on impermanence, departure, and change with all the turmoil such dramatic moves entail. The album abounds with contrasts: the bright surge of the instrumental sound versus the resigned and contemplative of the lyrics (Greenspan bidding goodbye to Dark or some other lost love?), the extroverted dance feel antithetical to the lyrical ambiance of solitude and introversion.

Though smatterings of electro and dub work their way into the techno-funk strut of the opener “Double Shadow,” Greenspan's silken whisper exerts the strongest pull. The song is actually a rather mellow and understated opener, and one in keeping with the languorous mood of the album. Elsewhere, the minimal electro-funk groove in “First Time” provides the perfect setting for his soulful delivery. A number of songs come across as quintessential Junior Boys: “The Equalizer,” synth-based electro-soul spotlighted by Greenspan's feathery swoon and an equally swooning chorus, and the title song, a laid-back electro-shuffle with almost a Cologne feel. One of the most memorable songs, “In The Morning” (a collaboration with Mouse On Mars' Andi Toma) is a rather anomalous yet welcome exercise in upbeat funk. Best of all is its fabulous pop arrangement which offsets a chiming melody, a funky synth squeal, and ‘Do ya' vocal accents with a heavy bass motif and synth arpeggios. The album's peak is “Like A Child” where Greenspan's feathery voice effortlessly rides the song's swooning melody amidst cascading strings and handclaps. When the song veers into a brief call-and-response (“Like a child”-“Yeah, you hold me”), the effect is glorious and the soulful break that follows is equally lovely for being so sparse.

It's not a perfect collection, however. The more subdued tone doesn't always work in the band's favour with “Count Souvenirs,” for instance, an electro shuffle so slick it verges on MOR. And the band's cover of the Sinatra classic “When No One Cares” amounts to a well-intentioned and sincere homage but ultimately a misstep. Sinatra's version remains definitive as a naked portrait of loneliness and regret; the Boys' cover seems mannered and superficial by comparison. Even so, while the jolt of the debut's sound has settled, the quietly assured material isn't any less arresting. So This Is Goodbye may not be as revelatory as Last Exit, but it's still very strong indeed.

November 2006