Jeremy Greenspan, one half of Canadian creative duo Junior Boys, has spoken openly about his intention that It’s All True, the group’s fourth album, should be some kind of departure. He laboured intensively on the album in Shanghai, in reaction to what he perceived to be a negative reaction to previous album Begone Dull Care, hoping to veer away from the group’s reputation for crafting sleek, minimalist electronica. The end product does not exactly sound unexpected, however. There are occasional more elements and broader instrumentation, but the lingering sensation is that It’s All True is simply more of the same. The group is still as defined by the space in the music as much as by the sounds. Given Greenspan and Didemus’ penchant for a good groove and, perhaps more sporadically, impressive hooks, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
One area in which Greenspan is definitely accurate is to describe this as a more ‘personal’ and ‘introspective’ record. Occasionally, its tendency towards inwardness threatens to become the predominant characteristic. This is certainly the case on the wistful, meandering Playtime – a piece that seems avowedly linear, but without journeying anywhere in particular. Greenspan’s voice, understated and soft, can sound listless and detached in such unsympathetic contexts.
Greenspan definitely fares best with a good squelchy groove, the kind that made In The Morning so thoroughly irresistible. In this regard, the restless opener Itchy Fingers, with its switching between half time and the actual tempo, is a Junior Boys classic. It sounds appropriately agitated and jittery. Similarly, You Improve Me, reminiscent of Hot Chip, with whom Junior Boys share a melodic approach to electronic pop, represents the duo at their sleek, well crafted best. The success hinges on the infectiousness of its repetitive, insanely catchy chorus.
A couple of dangers inherent in Greenspan and Didemus’ working methods become apparent on It’s All True. Occasionally, it seems as if Greenspan’s natural pop instincts might be operating on autopilot. A song such as A Truly Happy Ending is very much in the group’s signature style but lacks the truly killer hook that elevates their best material. At other points, Greenspan and Didemus seem to have concentrated so hard on sound and texture that they’ve forgotten melody altogether. The Reservoir is an enthralling tapestry of sound, with a particularly thoughtful approach to vocal harmonies, but it lacks a memorable tune and has no rhythmic impetus with which it might compensate for this. Kick The Can, although really quite weird, is a little too repetitive and directionless. The least successful music here is somewhat thin – and could benefit from a big boost of bass.
Yet when Greenspan and Didemus get it right, they get it very right indeed. The nine minute modern disco piece that concludes the album (Banana Ripple) is a prime example of their brilliance, Greenspan’s breathy vocals well served by a shifting but subtle accompaniment. This shows clearly how a small number of musical elements can be extrapolated into something substantial and affecting. The Prince-esque robotic funk of Second Chance is certainly simple but also direct and appealing, whilst ep is a glistening, shimmering wonder, with brilliant use of muted guitar. It’s probably the best example of Greenspan integrating his personal and musical concerns here.
Every Junior Boys album has at least one track that should serve to bring them to a much wider audience. It’s All True, although slightly patchy, has a generous handful of these moments of inspiration. The duo’s main achievement continues to be the injection of some warmth and compassion into the often cold world of minimal electronica.