by carl wilson

"I waddle out and get a couple of gasps:
'Is that what their hair looks like?' "

jaybeese.jpg

My Junior Boys profile is now up on The Globe and Mail site (let me know if you can't access it, please). Outtakes to come on Monday.

And isn't tonight the craziest night in shows of all crazy nights in Toronto? Gee, would I rather see the Jr Boys, Damo Suzuki, the Hidden Cameras, Jessica Rylan (amazing Boston-area noise-type artist playing free in Trinity-Bellwoods Park at sundown), the Deadly Snakes, Amy Millan or They Shoot Horses Don't They? Or go to Santa Cruz on the Capt. John's Seafood boat in the harbour? Can't do 'em all! Who wants to give up, meet in the alley behind my house, and drink cooking wine instead?

No, I am actually going to see the Jaybeez, 'cuz I've barely seen them live at all. But it really does hurt.

Also: I have a contribution in the first issue of Becky Johnson's new zine, Point Form: A Zine of Lists. It's the zineyest.



Junior Boys bring electro-pop home

Hamilton's Junior Boys want to prove their bleeps and bloops are as Canadian as Tom Cochrane, CARL WILSON writes

The Globe & Mail Review
August 26, 2006

When Jeremy Greenspan walks on stage, some spectators do a double-take.

Not that the singer and songwriter for the Hamilton-based duo Junior Boys is such a bizarre sight. Quite the reverse: Due to his music's introverted moods and synthesized bubbles and whirrs, listeners often expect a dour rake sporting globs of mascara and asymmetrical locks. What they get is a grinning, mildly pot-bellied 26-year-old with owlish eyes and the trimmed brown beard a soulful folkie might wear.

"I waddle out and get a couple of gasps: 'Is that what their hair looks like?' " Greenspan says, laughing.

And it's not just about fashion. Electro-pop, unusually for today's mix-and-match culture, is stereotyped as belonging to one place and time: England in the early 1980s. It's assumed to be the soundtrack for lyrics about boredom, gender ambiguity, dystopias and androids. None of which has much bearing on Junior Boys' second album, So This Is Goodbye.

The record draws an intricate map of losses and reclamations, etched with traces of conversation that could be domestic squabbles or mumblings into a mirror. Though it's plagued with dust and doubles, shadows and moans, those anxieties are woven into witty melodic filigrees, with a youthful, rhythmic swing assured enough to shake the ghosts off at the curves.

It's one of the finest suites of pop music of the year, and most reviewers call it a distinct advance on Last Exit, Junior Boys' already superb 2004 debut. So This Is Goodbye was rated 9.0 this month on the popular Pitchfork website, which reputedly helped to make the careers of bands such as the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene.

And Greenspan, a motor-mouthed and articulate theorist of his own work, will argue its bleeps and bloops are just as Canadian as Tom Cochrane belting out Life Is a Highway.

"A lot of the mood I'm trying to capture is a uniquely Canadian thing -- the highway thing, the experience of driving up north," Greenspan says. "If you look from a high place, it seems like the city is carved out of wilderness. Even in America, if you take a highway and drive in some random direction, you'll end up somewhere you recognize. In Canada, it's the middle of nowhere.

"This produces an agoraphobia, a fear of vastness, a fear I sort of get off on . . . [an] opposite of claustrophobia that we have here, that is sort of uniquely ours."

Greenspan says he is "totally obsessed with Canadiana," including the animation of Norman McLaren and the contests of figure-versus-ground in the canvases of Christopher Pratt, "a painter that encapsulated everything I'm trying to say about where I'm from musically."

If his music gets mistaken for an anglophilic period piece, it's partly because it was first vaulted to notice by a London cabal of Internet critics. Greenspan's initial duo with programmer Jonny Dark had already split when demos began circulating among British music bloggers and message-board devotees. Their fervour for the amalgam of underground dance rhythms with crisp pop melodies pricked up the ears of Warp Records's Nik Kilroy, who tracked Greenspan down to invite Junior Boys to be the first artists on his own label, KIN.

Greenspan took up with another Hamiltonian beat-maker, Matthew Didemus, to complete what became Last Exit, and to go on the road. Junior Boys is now signed to Domino Records, best known as the home of recent British indie hit-makers Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys. "I find myself at times getting more ambitious than I thought I would," he comments on the prospect of similar success, "but we're kind of a culty band. . . . I'd love to be a one-hit wonder, though. That'd be great."

One of Greenspan's frustrations is that the Domino rock bands' revisions of 1980s post-punk get called fresh, while Junior Boys is considered retro. "The equipment we use somehow codifies in people's minds this specific historical moment in the way it doesn't if people play classic guitars, drums and bass. There's often all sorts of bands reproducing the equipment specifications of the bands they love in much more 'authentic' ways than we do. We use far more contemporary machines, machines they couldn't have used then."

But they did reach back in their choice for the album's architecture, and for an influence on Greenspan's singing now compared to his reedy fragility on Last Exit -- Frank Sinatra's classic concept albums Point of No Return(1961) and No One Cares (1959). The latter's title song, remade as a half-frozen still life, serves as a centrepiece of So This Is Goodbye.

"What I identify with [in Sinatra] . . . is this sort of sense of distilling objects and moments from their contexts," Greenspan says.

That approach brought to mind the theme of collecting, and Greenspan decided to construct the album around it: "I think everyone knows what's sad about collectors -- many music fans are among them. . . . Collecting things is how you deal with saying goodbye to moments, the inability to actually part with things -- to deal with the fact that the moments are gone."

Of his title, he says, "The reason it's not just This Is Goodbye but So This Is Goodbye is that it's, 'So, this is what goodbye feels like.' I hate overwrought drama in music. Simple little sadnesses are far more powerful to me. . . .

"[It's] about dealing with the kind of goodbyes you say to things all the time that actually don't tear you to pieces. It's not about dealing with the death of someone extremely close to you, but saying goodbye to some part of your life that just drifted away and you didn't even see it happen. The kind of sadness everyone deals with all the time, and it's not dealt with in art all that often because it's seemingly not particularly important."

Greenspan credits the rusty byways of Hamilton, "my muse," with inculcating him with his sensitivity to the periphery. "When you live in a big city, so much of your emotional investment in that place has to do with recognizable iconography, whereas for people like me, the things you see every day are strip malls and highways. They start to have emotional resonance for you. . . . I got into this idea of cataloguing, about people who find and hold onto something beautiful that isn't supposed to be beautiful."

For an artist who emerged from the non-place of the Internet, these "homesick, home-obsessed" themes provide ballast and balance. Yet Greenspan also sees value in the "lack of identity, the lack of historical reference" that often vexes Canadians: "I think we should embrace that. A lot of people are overburdened by their own history. Instead, what people want is to invent and replicate a Canadian culture that's not really true -- like Celtic fiddling. . . . I'd like [my music] to be a challenge to what people think of Canadian."

However, he adds, "It's time for me to deal with something else, and record somewhere new." His sister lives in Shanghai, and after the coming year of touring is done, he might move there. "I figured I'd go as opposite as you can go from Hamilton. . . . And I don't think any Western pop group has ever made a record in China.

"At least I'll get my name in the history books somehow."

Junior Boys play the El Mocambo in Toronto tonight [Aug 26], with further dates across the country in September and October. See their MySpace for details.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, August 26 at 3:44 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)

 

COMMENTS

you missed a good one, carl. "under the sun" was monster.

Posted by markp on August 28, 2006 7:32 AM

 

 

jbs were in fine form, both old and new songs sounded the great (after some initial monitor problems). way too much talking in the crowd for most of it, tho...

Posted by andrew on August 28, 2006 3:41 AM

 

 

You're right. I could have. But I did not. Instead i worried a lot about things that i won't go into, nursed a lousy fuckin' summer cold, and then went to a dinner party mostly populated by Morris Dancers, and enjoyed live music made by a drunken crowd later in the night, and tried to join in, badly. I hadn't socialized with anyone for a week and was feeling the need for something that would not be fulfilled by looking at a stage. I am sad about not seeing the JBs, though. How was it?

Posted by zoilus on August 27, 2006 10:47 PM

 

 

Carl, you could have done what I did ... saw Amy Millan and Angela Desveaux at Harbourfront in the afternoon, saw most of The Hidden Cameras' set(minus the encore) at Harbourfront in the evening, shot down to the El Mo and caught the tail end of The Russian Futurists' set and then the whole of Junior Boys' set, then scooted down to The Silver Dollar where The Deadly Snakes were finishing off their 'real LAST SHOW ever'.

Posted by mike on August 27, 2006 8:46 PM

 

 

are you serious about the cooking wine? because that's just my speed right about now.

the zineyest,

becky

Posted by miss sweetie pie warewolf johnson the second on August 27, 2006 5:10 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson