Up to the point of listening to their latest, Begone Dull Care, it would have been reasonable to assume that Junior Boys were in complete, almost supernatural control of their genre. Their previous full length, So This Is Goodbye, was not merely the duo’s best work: it was a near flawless affirmation that electro-pop can resonate with the listener for reasons beyond the artist’s mastery of their machinery. It was an album that wowed with it’s stupefying technical proficiency, but also invited listeners to bask in the personal warmth of it’s makers. This meant we got songs like the surefire Junior Boys fan club-expanding “In the Morning,” which rightly made it’s way into every DJ’s playlist across the country, and then there was the gorgeous haze of “FM” to keep the listener’s love affair with the Junior Boys going even as the night came to a close.
To reiterate, So This Is Goodbye was certain to be difficult to top, but what Begone Dull Care makes sadly clear is that So This Is Goodbye is also a difficult album upon which to expand. This is not to say that the Junior Boys have peaked, nor that Begone Dull Care is a dud: it simply suggests that the duo are spinning their wheels a bit, tightening up the technical elements of their work until they can figure out what to do next. It’s understandable, given how much of a revelation their previous work was. After all, the listening public is not known to have a long memory. Musicians have to keep churning out product regardless of their confidence in the material. So for the time being, Junior Boys fans have Begone Dull Care to chew over, an album with enough excellent moments to compensate for the lackluster ones, but not enough to win the duo too many new fans.
And it certainly is one tightly produced album. Every effect, glitch, synth, and drum is programmed within an inch of it’s life. The Junior Boys time away has certainly been productive, at least in terms of mastering their equipment. Begone Dull Care is as busy of an album as we’ve heard from the Junior Boys, a group not exactly known for their spare arrangements. While the production is impressive, it occasionally adds credence to the listener’s feeling that all of this fussiness is meant to distract from the album’s noticeably lacking elements (e.g. strong melodies).
While we’re on the subject of melodies, Begone Dull Care has one particularly shining moment, a song that actually exemplifies everything this album could have been, and that song is “Dull to Pause.” Just when the listener has settled into a cloud of almost indistinguishable (albeit above-average) electro-pop songs, “Dull To Pause” snaps the listener back to life with a sprightly synth and otherwise modest instrumental adornment. On first listen, it’s a hopeful moment, suggestive of a new direction for the album. Unfortunately, the Junior Boys quickly revert back to the album’s previously established mood, one of sleek, semi-robotic sheen.
That sound has always been there for the Junior Boys. Glossiness is nothing new to them, but it was usually well tempered with Greenspan’s bizarrely affecting, somewhat effeminate vocals. While Greenspan’s voice is a constant presence on Begone Dull Care, it’s less central and more decorative, and the album suffers for it. It’s unlikely it would be so noticeable if there weren’t moments like “Dull to Pause” or the creeping melodic elegance of opener “Parallel Lines” to remind the listener what the rest of the album is lacking. At the very least, those songs are reminders that, when they’re on top of their game, it’s difficult to trump the Junior Boys for emotionally rich futurism.