Sunday, April 12, 2009

Begone Dull Care - Junior Boys

Begone Dull Care

Junior Boys
Domino Records.

SCQ Rating: 76%

Opera House, Spring 2005: newly-anointed Caribou Dan Snaith was capping off a Canadian tour in Toronto and decided to celebrate by collecting his label-mate friends into an evening of Domino-curated brilliance. Born Ruffians, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Junior Boys and Four Tet played exciting sets in anticipation for Caribou’s propulsive performance. What made it so thrilling was how well the line-up showcased Domino’s range of talent; from curious indie-rock and bizarre prog-psych to bittersweet electro-pop and sample-happy laptop beats, the event sent everyone home with a shortlist of albums to look into. Almost four years on, that night has become a peculiar moment in time; Caribou has since simplified his love of psychedelic 60s and organic krautrock into vacuously calculated programming, Four Tet embraced armchair-techno on Ringer EP, and Junior Boys have returned with Begone Dull Care, their first record overtly inspired by dance rhythms. It’s almost reasonable to accuse the Domino imprint of going BPM-happy. Almost.

Having occasionally flirted with the casual corners of the dancefloor on tracks like ‘In the Morning’ or ‘The Equalizer’, Junior Boys’ appreciative nod toward dance music was always more of a question of ‘when’ than ‘if’. If their entry into last year’s Body Language series foreshadowed a growth of their dance scene sensibilities, it was also largely associative (their exclusive track ‘No Kinda Man’ felt closer to Last Exit than anything since). And even if Begone Dull Care satisfies a few trademarks of extroverted flair, it’s as tastefully instilled to their original sound as all the retro influences we fawned over back in 2004. Reintroducing us to Greenspan’s whispery timbre is ‘Parallel Lines’, a pulsating anthem of sonar blips and tempered laptop-thwacks that find our crooner back in the throes of another fragile relationship. Coupled by the lilting spins of idyllic love in ‘Dull to Pause’ or some spacey funk in ‘Bits and Pieces’, Greenspan is unburdened of his loneliness from So This Is Goodbye, lyrically prepped for romance, late-night lust or whatever the night brings.

Enough about sex and heartbreak; you hardly need to peel the cellophane off a Junior Boys album to feel its emotions pull you in. What makes Begone Dull Care so interesting isn’t its thematic discourse but its aesthetic choices. The Hamilton, Ontario duo’s appropriation of techno rhythms has little to do with any dancefloor ambitions - in a recent interview, Greenspan proudly referred to their music as a “buzzkill” at European festivals – but everything to do with construction. Like the work Begone Dull Care is named after (that of the late visual-artist Norman McLaren) which gave new definition to mixed media as McLaren often painted over his own film, these eight songs use techno’s limitless timespan to slowly unravel or layer up. ‘Sneak a Picture’ spends its first four minutes under the guise of a pedestrian JB tune – bubbly synth-work, glitches and old-school keys – before morphing into an unsettling landscape of whispered lyrics and eerie atmospherics. In the case of ‘What It’s For’, Greenspan and Matt Didemus use a minimal palette of blips and loops, building the song briefly before stripping it back to bare essentials.

Their method, technically proficient as it may be, has its perils: some fans might not rejoice the notion of a seven-minute pop song that focuses on texture as often as melody, others might find their straight-forward contributions (lead single ‘Hazel’…FYI: still six-minutes) too predictable. As subtly as each Junior Boys album has shifted focus, probing their catalog to find comparative strengths or weaknesses makes for challenging work. As an ode to McLaren’s groundbreaking work (which is sadly underscored next to Stan Brackage’s similar, albeit later, technique), Begone Dull Care is thought-provoking. Without references to Canadian Avant-artists, this is just a meticulously crafted pop album… something we’ve come to expect and cherish from this group.

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