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High Come Down EP
ome of the worst moments listening to music occur when listening back to old indie records. The sick-to-the-stomach feeling arises when hearing lyrics that I once identified with and cherished, but which over time I’ve grown to despise, and now find painfully self-indulgent. Although the tender fragments of memories have been beaten to death in indie-rocker lyrics over the years, on the Birthday EP Junior Boys provided a refreshing alternative take on this most staid form. The trappings of earlier artists appear to be merely a leaping point for the group.
The Junior Boys’ debut EP employed the warmly reverbed vocals of Johnny Greenspan coupled with wet synths, enveloping the music under the direct skitter of beats. The blank, blue-eyed r’n’b croon of Greenspan allowed detachment and revelation simultaneously. It was through this fission that the Junior Boys straightforwardly embraced nostalgia and avoided over-dramatized sentimentality – one of the more gut wrenching pitfalls of the genre known as emo. With High Come Down EP, the Junior Boys build upon the template and don’t dogmatically confine themselves to a narrowed form of sentiment.
“High Come Down” follows the mold cast on Birthday EP. The expanse of “Last Exit” returns, evoking a bare isolation in striking juxtaposition with the record’s tropical cover. The band, from Canada, uses the dubbed vastness as perfect contrast with the chorus – where both the playful synth and Greenspan’s voice achieve “imitative polyphony.” This simultaneous use of melody should have come off as cheesy, but instead becomes instantly memorable (a feat recently found in the Strokes’ “12:51”).
It’s this subtle reworking of form which makes High Come Down EP force one to reconsider the Junior Boys outside the mere sum of oft-cited influences. The original material on this EP avoids predictability, a problem that plagues Manitoba’s remix of “Birthday” (a similar weakness recalling Fennesz’s reworking of “Last Exit” on the Birthday EP). While Manitoba’s propelling bassline and tweaked snare drum recall the sonic vocabulary of the artist’s recent work, the remix loses the original’s inspired rhythmic play against the gentle bass. Given the context of the Junior Boys’ original songs, the remixes appear to reflect the styles of both Manitoba and Fennesz as clichéd, even forced. The greatest allure of the Junior Boys’ sound appears to be the etching out of an original and distinct style; by not adhering too strongly to any one approach, the experimentation provides the most satisfying moments.
“Under the Sun” also boils over (or under) with this type of subtle experimentation, flowing in and out of anticipated developments found within the concise pop-form. The song’s simple persistence allows a minimal melody to provide solace from the muted yells of call and response. These yells blur the hitherto tense line between vocals and drum programming in the Junior Boys catalog. However, the song is also ultimately hindered by this minimal chug and eventually loses steam, providing no sense of thematic resolution.
Ending with “A Certain Association” is underwhelming; the song’s airy development is abruptly lost. Its pulsating nature openly embraces a beat-less framework – surprising from a group that often accentuates drum-programming. It suggests an embrace of ambient, without falling to easy (read: typical) comparisons with Brian Eno. Indeed, the ominous pulsating could be closer to Steve Reich (and Music for 18 Musicians); like Reich, the song uses disembodied elements of instrumentation to achieve cohesion through repetition. Over the oceanic tide, a muted (and mutated) synth/mimicked slide-guitar provides relief by recalling hazy instrumental pop memories, once-removed from The Venture’s lullaby “Sleepwalk.”
The EP’s initial disappointment could also be the most enticing element of the Junior Boys’ sound. The willingness to explore, despite a finding such a crystallized form in Birthday EP and “High Come Down,” proves the best element of High Come Down EP. Thereby, trying to pinpoint the Junior Boys’ sound becomes rather meaningless and hinders the potential exploration still available to the group. This grows and grows.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: MARCH 14 - MARCH 20, 2004
Reviewed by: Nate De Young
Reviewed on: 2004-03-15
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