A trendy New York disco. A fashion runway in Milan. Any place that’s sleek, sexy and with the slightest chill—these are all places you’d expect to hear the new-wave leaning dance pop of Canadian duo Junior Boys. But in the apartment of a shaggy kid like him next door? It hardly sounds logical, but Junior Boys have the rare quality to take any mundane setting and make it more stylish and seductive within mere seconds of their first throbbing beat. After releasing two well-received EPs, the Hamilton, Ontario group returned with a stunning full-lengther that’s as graceful and ethereal as it is danceable and nostalgic.
The group stated in their bio that “making music that is explicitly retro or nostalgic isn’t all that exciting,” but they do believe that “you could produce really exciting fresh pop music that is unapologetically synthetic.” And upon listening to Last Exit, the band’s first proper album, it’s apparent that that’s exactly what they set out to accomplish.
On the one hand, much of Last Exit has an explicitly retro quality. Take the single Birthday for example. The keyboard hook seems to have been pulled from from New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies, while the evocative vocals kinda recall OMD or Talk Talk.
If it were released in 1983, it would have been a huge hit.
But on the other hand, Last Exit is shockingly futuristic. High Come Down and Teach Me How To Fight are built upon Timbaland-style stutter step beats. Yet the music and vocals in both songs are too dreamy and ethereal to bear any resemblance to hip-hop, not to mention they both still contain elements of that early ’80s synth-pop as well.
That’s the funny thing about Junior Boys. They display a strong Eighties influence, but are thoroughly steeped in modernism.
And yet, somehow, despite how synthetic and electronic the album is, it sounds strangely warm and human. Leadoff track More Than Real is a fabulously fun, catchy dance number, with a pick-up line for a chorus: “You know I’ve got your number/I even know your street”
The second track, Bellona, really can’t be separated from the aforementioned imagery of a fashion runway, as its beat conveys a certain sense of confidence and swagger, which couples well with Prada and Versace. Under The Sun is thoroughly oversexed, layered with sleazy soft-porn beats, oozing fogs of low end and breathy vocals. And the previously mentioned Teach Me How To Fight is the undoubtedly the most anthemic and beautiful track on the album.
There’s never been an easy way to categorise Junior Boys, as their range of influences spans as wide as the history of the synthesizer itself. With a little new wave here, some hip-hop there and just a dab of Kraftwerk, this Canadian trio made the dance album of the year 2004. And it just might have found an audience in someplace outside of a nightclub too.