April 6, 2009

Begone Dull Care.

Having established themselves as one of Canada's leading electronic pop acts, the Junior Boys decidedly lean back and relax on their third album. They seem less interested in pushing the boundries of their sound than in exploring its width, as if curious about how many permutations, how much variation the limits they've imposed on themselves will allow. The period they've chosen being the first half of the eighties, when analogue machines were gradually being replaced by digital variants, with a sharper, less dynamic, more precise, and - to most listeners - colder sound.

In fact, many of the tracks are rhythmically rooted in late seventies electronic pop, while sonically summoning the early eighties. For instance,
Hazel, the album's lead single, brings both Depeche Mode's Everything Counts and Kraftwerk's Trans-Europa Express to mind in this manner, while Parallel Lines, the album's opener, rolls in on a Giorgio Moroder-esque bass line that could've been a slower version of alphaVille's The Elevator. But then the strings kick in and suddenly the listener's enveloped in the Junior Boys' distinct romantic atmosphere, where their ability to seamlessly complement the electronic sounds with conventional and acoustic accents - to a point where the machines and the traditional instruments become virtually indistinguishable - continues to impress.

What's truly groundbreaking about
Begone Dull Care is that it may well be the very first Canadian electronic pop album - if not the first Canadian pop album ever - to be issued with artwork in both official languages. Curiously enough, it was released on the same day as the Pet Shop Boys Yes - another album with artwork based on a colour chart. But where the British stars concocted an album about rapidly aging hipsters worrying about remaining hip, referencing a trendy German artist in order to appear en vogue, the Junior Boys found inspiration closer to home: an award winning abstract animated film by Evelyn Lambart and Norman McLaren.

Its title perhaps inspired by an old Yorkshire ditty, dating back to at least the days of James II of England (and possibly an older, French chanson), the film's considered a
direct film masterpiece, featuring music by the the Oscar Peterson Trio. Created sixty years ago, it's a far from trendy reference point - which, ironically, lends this Junior Boys album the very timelessness self-appointed hipsters try so hard to capture. However, musically this album's closer to an exercise in familiarity than nostalgia.

The uneven sequence propelling
The Animator echoes that of the previous album's Like a Child, while the jittery R&B considered somewhat of a Junior Boys signature occasionally threatens to entirely obliterate the languid, laidback groove (as in Bits & Pieces.) More contemporary references crop up in Sneak A Picture, which strives to occupy the same dancefloor spot Wolfgang Flür's Cover Girl tries to steal from his previous band's classic Das Model. There are also tentative steps in new directions, most obviously in Dull to Pause, where a folksy motif embellished with pedal steel action provide an unexpected touch of country.

But despite that track's assertions to the contrary, it makes the album's lyrical theme of savouring a splendid moment explicit: "I was pacing around / and just recording it down / I had nothing to say / I'm done for another day / 'cause I don' want to share you / So don't say goodnight / No, don't say goodnight."
Begone Dull Care isn't so much a call to throw caution to the wind, as an incantation to banish the drearily ordinary in order to make an exceptional moment last. A relaxed, slow affair, taking its time as though afraid of ending to soon, every track extended as far as possible. An album for people who've fallen in love, and don't want to get up.

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