t’s been a long time since I’ve actually listened to the Junior Boys’ first release, Birthday/Last Exit EP. Oh, I’ve been playing it tons. In fact, I love it. It’s just that I play it now as a security blanket. It’s become so familiar, so ingrained, so personal to me that I just smile when I hear the opening chords, the synth squiggles, the voice intonations, every little detail. I don’t listen to it anymore. I just play it and have it on while I’m focusing on other things. So, when I pushed play again (it was already in the CD player), I really listened to it for the first time in ages. And this is what I heard:
An almost ska-esque rhythm opens “Birthday” the EP’s first track, run through an extremely 80s indebted synthesizer. Every backbeat is hit until the snare announces its entry into the proceedings, sounding like unreleased Timbaland. The syncopated rhythms mixed with this lovely bed of melody create an intense dichotomy- the softness pushing hard, probing at all times against the martial skeletal snares. And then the voice of Jeremy Greenspan enters. This isn’t a happy birthday we’re a part of- “You’ve gone and missed my birthday/you’ve gone and left me on my own.” The lyrics are an added twist on top of the already innovative backing- detailing a melancholic situation, giving the relatively light background music a decided sadness. The ecstatic moment of the track? Upon the end of the line “if you take all this weight behind me and let it go” a descending counter-melody enters the song, simulating the proposed reaction to the weight being pushed upon Greenspan.
Greenspan gets up long enough to turn in the highlight of the disc next, “Last Exit,” before retiring for the rest of the EP. Once again, the backing track reminds of an even sparser and colder Timbaland- if he chose 80s synth pop as his genre of the moment. This time, though, the melody is even further subsumed into whispers and echoes, as opposed to the overt nature of the opener. The track is nearly seven minutes long, but, in actuality, it feels almost too short. Taking a page again from Timbaland, the track ends with an extended instrumental passage, restating the theme and reveling in the obvious mastery of the form that the group has achieved.
“Unbirthday,” which takes elements of “Birthday” and inverts them is a meditative instrumental, which features a stuttered vocal sample of Greenspan. The song is similar to “Last Exit” in its reserved nature and follows the same production style until near the end when a processed sample enters into the fray, taking over the track until the click rhythm is completely overpowered and lost in the digital ether of the original melody frayed and crackling. It acts as a beautiful lead into the final track on the EP- a remix from noted digital processer, Christian Fennesz.
Fennesz’s contribution to the disc continues in this same vein- placing Greenspan’s “Birthday” vocals as a secondary attraction to the echoed and flanged treatments of the other varied elements present. His arrangement of the original synth melody rises and soon falls revealing an unsure and wavering composition that is only given a form and shape near the end of the track by a driving guitar addition that ends the release on a triumphant note.
And what a triumph it is. Somehow connecting the synth pop of the 80s to the 2-step and syncopated hip-hop of Timbaland today, the Junior Boys have fashioned an incredible debut that is suffused with the sort of assuredness of true innovators. With a template like the one that they have fashioned here, it’s hard to see how this group can go wrong in the future.