By: Eric Greenwood
Invariably, when you invoke synthpop in any context the discussion turns retro, but with a record like Last Exit by the Canadian trio, Junior Boys, one can look to the future without seeming too out of touch. The synths are glassy and oblique, underscored by beats broken and stuttered to the point of near new wave symbiosis. Delicate, wistful vocals, recalling vintage R&B, bubble just under the surface. The inflection is as sexually charged as it is understated, creating a healthy distance between the listener and any semblance of persona.
Junior Boys are careful not to reveal anything too personal, defying the spirit of the early '80s New Romantic Movement from which they garner much of their style, where character defined the music as much as the music did. The vocals are never the spotlight. In fact, they force the listener to pay attention. Jeremy Greenspan's voice is so thin it barely penetrates the stuttering beats. The artwork is appallingly bland, yet familiar in its 'let the music speak for itself' bravado. Such a powerful mystique cannot be without strategy, and the Junior Boys' calculated agenda unfurls itself layer by layer with each new listen.
The infectious opener, "More Than Real", is sublime in its overt simplicity. Greenspan's sensual vocal nuances make such common rhymed couplets sound utterly vital: "I've got your number/I even know your street/If only you could meet me/I know we're meant to meet." The bouncy keyboards sound tinny and anachronistic at low volumes, but on headphones the subtleties of the programming stand out, transforming what could be a synthpop throwback into envelope-pushing genius.
No other song competes directly with "More Than Real" for sheer sexual urgency, but there's not a bum note on the entire record. With every spin I become more entranced by the suave, off-kilter rhythms, Greenspan's soulful, choirboy voice, and the light synthetic accouterments. "High Come Down" utilizes a minimalist's approach to the dance-floor mentality with spacious syncopation and airy keyboard touches. The nod to Timbaland is equal to the tip of the hat to Gary Numan.
The hypnotic, repetitious groove of "Under The Sun" stands out in the album's latter half with a vocal refrain so entrancing you never want it to end. The existential numbness of New Order's Movement sweeps through the Junior Boys' sophisticated dance party, but there's enough breathy desire to feel the human pulse behind each machinated beat. Last Exit is a monumental debut (following the unanimous acclaim of the trio's first two EP's) on par with It's My Life or Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. Just don't let it wallow in obscurity. See, not all Canadians are lame.