Junior Boys: Birthday
High Come Down
IDM, the "intelligent dance music" spawn of Aphex Twin and his disciples, is embracing the organic at an ever-increasing rate. Four Tet, Manitoba, and the Notwist each made fans outside the genre's hermetic ghetto by embracing a world outside their laptops. Postal Service's half-breed Give Up soundtracked every geek party of 2003, its mixture of plaintive songcraft and Day-Glo pings and whistles crafting a soulful wonderland out of aural Play-Doh. But Junior Boys (a.k.a. Jeremy Greenspan of Hamilton, Canada) might be the most talented of the bunch. Greenspan swaddles his homebrewed tracks--two-step garage twitter-steps covered in winter flannel--with cottony synths, curious little melodies, and a vocal style that's unabashedly emotional, if self-effacingly low in the mix.
"Birthday," the title track from a Junior Boys EP released last fall, is a devastated-slash-devastating breakup song set to a rhythm that's as stop-start as the relationship it describes: "Is it true that it's me?/You can say all the things you want to/But you don't easily/If you take all this weight behind me/And let it go...You're not here in the end/So there's nothing left to say." Greenspan's voice arcs dangerously high on the words "let it go," as if he's about to do just that with his emotional hold, but he stops short, riding the tension throughout the song. (His voice sounds like an uncanny cross between Daryl Hall and David Sylvian, minus the former's overplayed grit and the latter's pompousness.) The title cut of the newly released High Come Down is less heartbroken but just as swoon-worthy, with Greenspan's wispy sing-song vocals hinging on the beat like the proverbial ghost in the machine. Musically, "High Come Down" evokes a cross between Luomo's glitch-house soul and an Aaliyah ballad with an especially fragmented rhythm--current R&B minus the sonic glitz.
Which isn't to say that Junior Boys avoid traditional IDM altogether. The weakest links on both EPs are the instrumental doodads and remixes that abet the original songs: High Come Down features a clunky remix of "Birthday" by Dan Snaith of Manitoba, while Fennesz turns the songful "Last Exit" into a swarm of drones on Birthday. But what makes Junior Boys necessary is that, unlike the bulk of their laptop brethren, their sonic experimentation improves when it's attached to songs--songs that evoke the music bleeding through the walls as you hear a man cry in the bathroom stall of the hottest club in town.
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