If You Don't Really Want It
It’s All True begins with a song called “Itchy Fingers”, which is about as unsettled and frenetic as a Junior Boys song is likely to get. It’s followed with “Playtime”, a lengthy, almost unsettingly sensuous slow jam that’s either about fighting or sex. If you’re not in the mood for the former, it seems twitchy and immature. If you’re not in the mood for the latter, it seems either becalmed or unsettling. The question, then, is how many people are likely to be in the mood for both (I lean towards the latter, myself).
To be fair, Junior Boys have set an extremely high bar for themselves. Ever since the “Birthday”/“Last Exit” 12” in 2003, Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus have managed to walk a thin line between bedroom introspection and dance music, and if Last Exit and So This Is Goodbye skewed just a titch too far in those directions, 2009’s stellar Begone Dull Caresynthesized everything the band had done before and arguably fulfilled the promise of that first single. At its best, It’s All True lives up to Junior Boys’ past work, but it’s the spottiest album of their career, the first one with real peaks and valleys.
Peaks first: I have friends who respond to “Playtime” the way they did to Hot Chip’s “Slush” (another slow one that I love), but we all seem to agree that the sequence of “You’ll Improve Me” / “A Truly Happy Ending” is one of the album’s highlights, percolating the way most Junior Boys songs that aren’t “In the Morning” don’t quite manage even as they reach for typically knotty insights into relationships and personality. And the closing “Banana Ripple” is the band’s first real anthem, making full use of its nine minutes to build to an honest-to-god climax, Greenspan repeating “and you’ll never see me, and you’ll never see me, and you’ll never see me go” with real heat. The oddly capitalized “ep” precedes it with maybe the most rawly emotional track Greenspan has ever sung.
Unfortunately, “ep” is preceded by the mostly wordless, busy “Kick the Can”, which isn’t just the most unnecessary Junior Boys song since Last Exit‘s instrumental interlude “Neon Rider” (which at least was brief); it’s their worst, period. It’s All True improves if you skip “Kick the Can”, but the middle section of “The Reservoir” / “Second Chance” is flabby in a way this band has never really been, even if the former has a gorgeous surface (and oddly, sounds a bit like a leftover from Stars’ Heart album). Even “Itchy Fingers” can wear out its welcome.
Does that make It’s All True ‘transitional’, then? I don’t think so, if only because I’m not sure what it could be a transition to. The better material here ranks among the band’s very best, and it fits in and even extends what Begone Dull Care did to colonize a surprisingly original place in the midst of several genres. It’s just that this time, some of those extensions needed a bit of an edit. In the old days, they would have called those bits “album tracks”.
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// Notes from the Road
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