Junior Boys: Oh, Canada?

Unlikely electronic soul.

Soulfulness can come from unlikely sources. For electronic duo Junior Boys, that means the industrial Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario, and the considerable pipes of improbable-looking frontman Jeremy Greenspan, a pale, sunken-eyed, slightly shaggy guy in his middle years. Junior Boys formed in 1999 with Greenspan and producer Johnny Dark. They recorded and released two 12" EPs, including several songs which made it onto their 2004 full-length debut Last Exit, before Dark left to be replaced by Exit engineer Matt Didemus. Over their three albums since, including this year's It's All True, Greenspan and Didemus have carefully refined Junior Boys' sound—icy synth lines and rigidly funky drum-machine beats melted by Greenspan's steamy singing. Greenspan has grown into his voice dramatically over the years, leaving behind the misty whispering of the band's early releases to embrace a more full-throated soul crooning. At the same time, while Junior Boys may have initially lost some of the rhythmic complexity of Dark's R&B-derived drum programming, they've more than eclipsed that early draw through a steady enrichment of their sonic palette—from bedroom beats to something more closely approximating the high gloss of bigger-budget pop. It's All True is, simply, the best sounding album Junior Boys have yet produced—even if it doesn't have a single that hooks quite as deeply as their best song, 2006's "In the Morning." The album is announced by the audacious nine-minute workout of lead single "Banana Ripple," an extended effervescence of keyboard vamps, appropriately bright and rippling synth squiggles, and a pile-up of Greenspan's breathy falsettos. Its best song is the funky, unlikely come-on of "You'll Improve Me," with Greenspan singing "That's the way you'll improve me" over a slapping synth bass and glassy keyboard chords. Elsewhere, the album is full of immaculately produced, grown-up electro-pop—and one micro-house throwback, in the hiccuping synths and crunched vocal samples of "Kick the Can." And Ontario's not as unlikely a source for this stuff as one might think. Beyond the major metropolis of Toronto, it was Windsor, Ont., from which Richie Hawtin plugged into Detroit's legendary electronic-music scene and developed minimal techno—not to mention that the province has also given birth to the similarly emotive electronic stylings of occasional Junior Boys remixer/remixee Caribou. Compared to Hawtin's long-standing name recognition or Caribou's outstanding album Swim, Junior Boys are squarely, comfortably middle-weight, but their sweetly soulful electronic music remains an unassuming pleasure. music@seattleweekly.com

 
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