Review Summary: We ain’t going to the town
but, speaking of heyday indietronica that's fallen into an odd state of semi-obscurity outside of people who still actively chase that spice, how are the Junior Boys doing? Anyone keeping tabs? What are those men up to? Who did they grow up to be? Anyone asking these questions probably already knows the answers; it's not like there's any firm demand for a contemporary reevaluation of the Boys, specifically their once-lauded debut Last Exit
, or even a reminder of their existence. Can't be helped: in we go. Concertedly sparse, delicately glitchy and melodiously deadpan, Last Exit
epitomises the mood of those early '00s artists squatting on the margins of indie, electronic and pop. It possibly has a slight edge on that scene insofar as the Junior Boys drew comparatively less from IDM and more from house and techno, but their soundscapes were so bleached out that none of these differentiations feel particularly pronounced; it's their shy pop inflections that provide most of their music’s (limited) colour, and the rest is one slowburning neon shimmer.
Right off the bat, there are pretty clear reasons why this album treads a fine line between vintage and dated. It’s homogenous beyond the remit of its generous runtime, and the crossover novelty of its skittery beatwork is long past its prime; perhaps the latter was once a cutting-edge accent to otherwise desolate pop skeletons but now a tad more overstated than tasteful. On top of that, vocalist Jeremy Greenspan’s downbeat inflections harken to an era of indie schtick that the world has largely tired of, and his hooks often take the backseat to synthesised chord patterns and minimalistic bass pulsings. “High Come Down” is a great example of this, feinting at good melodies with near-cruelty and tangling its various rhythms into a forgettable stumble. The style blend is expansive as anything but frankly a little too obvious for its own good; anyone vaguely familiar with ambient pop, crossover techno or spaced-out indie of the proto-turtleneck variety can treat themselves to a well-earned we get it
, and at this point, I would hope that's most of you.
Predictably enough, the album’s core appeal is largely atmospheric. “Last Exit” and “Three Words” are easy highlights in this regard, occupying a sweet middle ground between earnest study jams and paranoid driving music, while “Under The Sun” largely drops the fusion, faring quite respectably as a dedicated techno piece. There’s an enduring sense of intrigue here, distantly threatening but almost endearing in its approachability (and its sparseness; as endearing as the inside of a very white, very empty box of light). Also, credit where it’s due, some of the pop has power beyond its time. "Birthday" was the song that started it all, and there are still a few salient hooks lurking behind that lilting bassline, but "Teach Me How To Fight" is better still. This one is the closest thing to an upbeat standout, with Greenspan nailing easily his strongest chorus alongside the album’s catchiest synth melody. Smooth, smooth scenes. The opener “More Than Real” isn’t quite as infectious, but it draws from similar strengths and sets the ball rolling promisingly; the Boys show a real maturity with their balance of starch and sparkle, and their discipline in teasing moments of gratification on these tracks is matched only by their stinginess in withholding them elsewhere. That’s what you sign up for with this flavour of indietronica.
Honestly, I can’t say it’s a tragedy that Last Exit
is a memory lane pilgrimage for the bulk of its audience these days. It holds up to, but not above, a respectable extent and is certainly worthwhile for anyone specifically into its constituent elements, but I think it owes half its draw to its value as a time capsule. I personally get far less excitement from these tracks in and of themselves than from the plain fact that they once (potentially) sounded like the freshest thing out there; imagine how it must have been to land on this in 2004
, and so on - and if this warrants a get-over-yourself de-wank, then the album at least has enough good waiting-room daydreams to tide things over. Time bridges all gaps etcetc., now show me that fucking exit.