Junior Boys | Begone Dull Care (Domino)

cd_junior-boys.jpgIt’s as if these songs were rolling around the band members’ heads, notions written in a private code but unsure of how best to be expressed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, it’s finally happened. A group has gone and made a record that’s unmistakably retro without explicitly referencing the past. How, precisely, that’s done is a bit of a mystery, but the evidence remains. It’s as if these songs were rolling around the band members’ heads, notions written in a private code but unsure of how best to be expressed; they could’ve come out as Tuvan throat songs or grand orchestral movements, but the only instruments laying around were stacks of synthesizers last switched on in 1985. And the guys went with it, except they’d been living in isolation, blinking blankly at mention of this "Duran Duran" and "Erasure" you speak of. This aura of being lost in translation goes hand in hand with the disc’s inconsistency and inability to figure out what it’s attempting to convey.

"Parallel Lines" kicks off the exploration in fine fashion, bringing to mind nothing less than the result of Pretty Hate Machine devouring the Pet Shop Boys. It’s languid, and possibly slightly overlong, but also sneakily beguiling. You fear to look, yet you cannot turn away. It’s also wonderfully noteworthy for featuring that distinct old synth sample that sounds like a robot burping. Speaking of the metal ones, "Work" is in possession of all the anti-charm of a badly programmed artificial intelligence program attempting to be seductive. "Sneak a Picture" is none better, going on endlessly, unnervingly resembling a cyborg doing Bryan Ferry at karaoke night.

But just when crippling techno-confusion threatens to set in, Junior Boys bounce back. "Hazel" and "Bits and Pieces," both flowing synthy nuggets, practically dare you to find colored spotlights and a vacant dancefloor. The pair of tunes are alternately hushed, squelchy and paranoid, and often wondrously lush. These songs, along with the Hall & Oates-worthy appeal (yes, really) of "The Animator," are tantalizing reminders of the duo’s underused ability to cram intriguing rhythmic and melodic ideas into easily digestible pop treats. The title track is a welcome additional development, stirring together some of the lessons learned from the album’s earlier failed experiments with the band’s natural songwriting instinct, tentatively introducing acoustic guitar strums and a searching, hippie shuffle into the existing bleep-pop recipe. Begone Dull Care could use more moments such as these which serve to remind that this is music made by real humans with blood flowing through their veins.

Too much of this offering from Junior Boys feels like a pre-crafted 12-inch remix, created whether or not the 7-inch warranted it or not. These songs feel as if they want to connect on a meaningful emotional level, but also maddeningly refuse to abandon a fashionable glaze, making for an icy and aloof final product that doesn’t feel intended that way. This mysterious air is acceptable, even enticing, from that gorgeous woman you see every day at the coffee shop: she’s compelling. But from your electro-pop? It needn’t be so damn coy. Begone Dull Care is never terrible, but would be a much better record if it was simply able to decide what it wanted to be. C | Mike Rengel

RIYL: Kenna; the idea of Trent Reznor making the Pet Shop Boys’ Introspective; doing it with a robot

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