Begone Dull Care
3.5 out of 5 stars
It’s hard to love the ’80s more than Junior Boys do. From its austere beeps and dollar-store snares to its “new-romantic” title, Begone Dull Care wears its retro genre label proudly. Fortunately, the band has pieced together many of the more appealing fragments from that era to create an album sounding like both something borrowed and something new.
The Boys’ pretty-boy vocals recall new-wave tunes. The band’s funky collaging of clipped percussion samples could have come from early techno or industrial music. And its music’s keyboard synths would have been at home in any song from the ’80s. What results is an album with a cold veneer and a chewy, “aw-shucks” center. If asked to provide an ad hoc pseudo-genre to describe Begone Dull Care, “intelligent electro pop” would be more than adequate.
The record is supposedly inspired by the experimental films of composer and abstract animator Norman McLaren. Its accompanying press release claims the similarity lies in the process of meticulous assembly that defines both animation and electronic music. But why Junior Boys decided to draw this comparison in the first place is a bit baffling. And while the album is a blast, its messages are often cryptic.
Opener “Parallel Lines” is a bare-knuckled introduction to Begone Dull Care. A beating-heart bass synth and aggressive snare hits rev up the four-on-the-floor number. Here vocalist Jeremy Greenspan half-whispers in a creepy and sexy falsetto over clockwork beats, giving the song a split dynamic between boyish charm and mechanical sterility. The lyrics sound profound yet vague in lines like, “Odds, ends, final amends / It’s alright to say it / just as long as you don’t really think so.”
Going for the nostalgic jugular on “Bits and Pieces,” the Boys cobble together a porno-riffic funk groove from blippy Atari-sounding samples. It sounds like a cross between ancient video game loops and new-wave pop. As the title implies, the song’s elements are discrete; they’re in-sync yet strangely isolated from each other. While the lyrics are abstract, they fit into the album’s central motif of building and solving puzzles: “I see it better when the lights are out / Just give a second and I’ll figure it out.”
Lead single “Hazel” takes the Boys’ Korg-core pillow-talk to its peak with a whiplash back-beat and bracing synth chords. Its swooning aphorisms are familiar and even trite (“With every kiss you kill me more”). But the glitchy breakdown adds another layer to the ballad about a girl that, for Greenspan, is yet another kind of puzzle. He’s trying to sort through his own infatuation: “You’re over everything / All the lines are skipping free / The moment interrupts me / and I can’t find my place.”
Introverted, complex and seductive, Begone Dull Care is full of paradoxes that happily know how to get along with each other. Balancing chilly beats with bashful vocals, Junior Boys have delivered a delightfully conflicted album, perfect for chaotic spring weather. Half the fun, as the lyrics suggest, is putting the pieces together — and the other half is simply basking in the glory of a finely tuned dance record.