Canadian synth-pop duo Junior Boys makes a career comeback

Tuesday 13th, September 2016 / 11:27
By Jamie McNamara
Jeremy Greenspan brings back exuberance from other projects into Junior Boys. Photo: Tom Weatherill

Jeremy Greenspan brings back exuberance from other projects into Junior Boys.
Photo: Tom Weatherill

CALGARY — Producer Jeremy Greenspan has a somewhat complicated relationship to album making; at least, the way he used to make ‘em.

In 2009, Greenspan and his co-conspirator Matthew Didemus released their third album as Junior Boys. That album, Begone Dull Care, found the synth-pop stalwarts setting their sights on big-budget, downtempo, disco balladry. Unfortunately, Begone Dull Care wouldn’t be the reinvention they were aiming for. The album was leaked a full two months prior to its official release date, complete with bootleg artwork, and a negative review of the album as accompaniment. The leak, coupled with the somewhat lukewarm critical reception the album received, left Greenspan feeling unappreciated and closed off to the idea of ever working on a traditional album again.

After giving it one more try with 2011’s It’s All True, the usually-affable producer finally gave up. Shortly after, he stated his feelings on the album format in various interviews with European music blogs saying: “I don’t like the process of them, I don’t like that they get leaked, and I don’t like people who are just so thankless.”

When I talk to Greenspan on the phone from Hamilton, he sounds like a new man.

It’s easy to see why; this past February, Junior Boys returned after five years of relative silence with their fifth album, the stunning Big Black Coat.

The LP is a sonically-rich, Detroit techno-influenced adventure into the throes of a Hamilton winter. The Ontario city’s post-industrial landscape serves as the perfect backdrop for Greenspan’s moody, modular synths and metronomic drum machines. Big Black Coat is easily one of the strongest entries in the duo’s discography, a sentiment shared by the panelists in charge of selecting the 2016 Polaris Prize longlist.

But that wasn’t the only album that got Greenspan a nomination, second being 2016 shortlister Oh No, the album he co-wrote and co-produced with Hyperdub mainstay, and fellow Hamiltonian, Jessy Lanza.

In fact, it’s Lanza who Greenspan credits much of his newfound success to. The two have been collaborators since 2013, when Greenspan helped co-produce Lanza’s debut album, Pull My Hair Back. “I felt like I was able to do something other than Junior Boys, and I was able to do something other than Junior Boys that people liked. It gave me some more confidence. It allowed me to change my direction as to what Junior Boys could sound like. That was really what changed everything for me was working on the first album with Jessy.”

The producers clicked immediately, their relationship and report blossomed quickly and the music began to flow. The results have been nothing short of amazing. Greenspan balanced his time working on Big Black Coat and Lanza’s sophomore record Oh No at the same time, something that wouldn’t have happened the way he used to work creatively. “I kind of wanted the new Junior Boys to live somewhere in between what I had done and the rawness of the techno stuff. I thought the means of doing that was stuff I learned from Jessy, this new quick approach. As opposed to taking a lot of time with a small amount of material, we took much less time with a much larger amount of material. If we didn’t like things we threw it out. The stuff that we did like we got it finished really fast.”

The volume of tracks didn’t slow down after Big Black Coat was finished either. The surprise release of the Kiss Me All Night EP in August is another example of Greenspan embracing immediacy. Opening track “Yes” is a raw, pulsing electro cut that is classic Junior Boys brought to the dancefloor with confidence. As with many Junior Boys songs, Greenspan’s lithe, vulnerable falsetto anchors the track. No matter how he makes album’s in the future, it’s nice to know some things will never change.

Catch Junior Boys Sept. 15 at West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg, Sept. 17 at the Starlite Room in Edmonton, and Sept. 18 at Commonwealth in Calgary.

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