Album Reviews

Junior Boys – Big Black Coat

(City Slang) UK release date: 5 February 2016


Junior Boys - Big Black CoatWith 2011’s It’s All True, Ontario’s Junior Boys finally delivered on the promise they’d been hinting at for years.  Formed as far back as 1999, songwriter Jeremy Greenspan and engineer Matthew Didemus developed their craft slowly and only really hit their stride with their fourth album. A playful, highly engaging collection of lithe, funky electro-pop infused with occasional melancholy, it also included by some distance the best track of their career in the quietly epic, nine minutes of joyfulness of Banana Ripple.

It’s taken the Boys almost five years to come up with a follow up; in the meantime, the duo have concentrated on solo projects –  Greenspan released two solo singles and a collaborative EP on Jiaolong, the label run by his old friend and fellow Ontarian Dan Snaith (aka Caribou), while Didemus, who’s now based in Berlin, started releasing solo tracks under the name Diva and launched his own label, Obsession.

After a period apart, the band has reformed with renewed vigour which certainly shines through on what is another confident, slick offering.  It combines their established synth-pop, techno, house and disco influences with a new sprinkling of soulfulness, making Big Black Coat a clear progression from It’s All True, although not quite as impressive as an overall package.

The new record kicks off strongly with the skittering percussion and bouncing synths of You Say That, with the high, echoing vocal offering the same echoes of disco that characterised Jungle’s 2015 debut. The promising start continues with Over It, more of a straightforward, Detroit house-influenced track, full of subtle tempo shifts showcasing the Boys’ impressive dexterity. 

Baby Give Up On It is the first indication of the new soul vibe and unfortunately it doesn’t quite work, with the stark keyboards often at odds with the soft, cooing vocal. Thankfully, a cover version of Bobby Caldwell’s 1979 lounge soul number What You Won’t Do For Love is much better. It’s a bold move by the Boys, particularly as they reinvent the track radically, reworking it so extensively that it’s all but unrecognisable. Replacing the lush, laid back warmth of the original are a lovely fluttering synth, some unexpected chord changes and Greenspan sighing “I’ve got a thing for you/and I can’t let go” with both desperation and a hint of menace. Elsewhere, Baby Don’t Hurt Me has a mellow, down tempo charm that is contrasted by the harsh, pulsating rhythms of Love Is A Fire, but other tracks like M&P and No One’s Business are little more than adequate filler.

Big Black Coat closes with the seven minute long title track, which while lacking the sophisticated, emotionally rich dynamics of Banana Ripple, is nevertheless always interesting, restlessly changing pace and once again proving how skilfully Greenspan and Didemus can vary their sonic landscape several times over the course of one track.

Those hoping for another quantum leap from Junior Boys may be slightly underwhelmed by Big Black Coat. It’s a slightly uneven collection with some weaker tracks, but nevertheless its creators remain artists whose ability to construct slinky, agile grooves with a dark underbelly is still well worth seeking out.


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Junior Boys – Big Black Coat
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