Album Review: Basement Jaxx - Junto

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

Man alive, the last five years have seen some dramatic shifts in the dance music scene. When last we saw Felix Burton and Simon Ratcliffe on a proper Basement Jaxx record, they were finishing out a full decade of releasing dance music with not one, but two incredible full length records. One, Scars, was a traditional Jaxx record in that every track was so far ahead of its time the world didn't know what to do with it (see: Dev Hynes on "My Turn", Yoko on the bizarro "Day of the Sunflowers", and 2-step integration of "twerk" four years prior to the term's full gentrification). The other, Zephyr, was a downtempo collection of latin and jazz, because why not? Glance through the other four records that Jaxx dropped in the nine years prior and you'll find more maximalist dance music gold. I mean, really, would pop music – not just dance music, but mainstream pop – look anything like it does today without records like Rooty and Kish Kash? Always at least three or four years ahead of their competition, Basement Jaxx spent the entirety of the aughts in the future while everyone else attempted to catch up.

So, all of that brings us to Junto. After the group's longest break from releasing a proper LP (they were busy in the space between scoring the wonderful UK sci-fi film Attack The Block and collaborating on orchestral arrangements of Jaxx classics, not to mention operating their imprint), they return with a conscious integration into the present day scene. Junto, together, in this moment – that's where the Jaxx meet us in 2014. In turn, Junto may be one of the most immediately arresting records the band has ever released. An eclectic and brilliant mixture as colorful and engaging as ever, Junto adds another check to a near-perfect track record, and there's no doubt that fans will love every minute.

Basement Jaxx really outdid themselves with the single offerings on Junto. Taking full notice of the temperature of the scene around them, there's something here for everybody. Album opener "Power To The People" is a radio-friendly dance-pop masterwork, complete with steel drum, full chorus, and marimba! "Unicorn" gives us an excellent challenger to the deep house reign of Disclosure with a piece of colorful 90s magic. The track almost feels like a continuation of one-off Jaxx single "Back 2 The Wild" from last year. But the real winner this time around is "Never Say Never". The hook will put tingles down your spine, but the classic Jaxx house groove is about as timeless as it gets. "The music brings me right back" – no surprises there. Jaxx give us equal parts progression and nostalgia on this beautiful, captivating single that puts them right back at the top where they've always been in our hearts.

The real treat for long time Jaxx fans on this record will be "We Are Not Alone". The pure, unadulterated euphoria throughout is a throwback to classic Rooty hedonism like "Romeo" and "Breakaway", but the 6/8 slide and the cool guitar balance it with a less anticipatory mood. Plus, the layers upon layers of vocal add-in, samples and otherwise feel like Kish Kash-era head-spinning maximalism. Simon and Felix have always had a knack for throwing everything at the wall and somehow having everything stick, and Junto just gives us more evidence.

But after all the glimmer of the singles fades, the second half of Junto is where you really get to see Burton and Ratcliffe rip in classic Jaxx style. Every track is a world apart in terms of style, scope, and effect. The Attack The Block aesthetic pops up on two tracks here. Brutal drum-n-bass meets flamboyant hip-hop color on "Buffalo", which moves around and switches direction faster than you can keep track of. Later, soft latin guitar meets heavy-handed hip-hop crunch on "Something About You". "Sneakin' Toronto" could have played on side B of Remedy and fit in wonderfully, with its bizarre, atonal groove and group-shout opportunities. "Mermaid of Salinas" continues the Latin streak with a wonderfully danceable Latin groove that takes the epic eight minute cut from last year and tones it down to not outweigh its neighbors.

But in typical Jaxx fashion, you'd best believe the closer will take your breath away. "Love Is At Your Side" almost sounds like a house banger that is scaled back because it wants to communicate an important truth to you. The track begs to explode throughout, but Simon and Felix keep the urge at bay to let the cool euphoria take full precedent. That chorus could put goosebumps on your neck even if you were asleep.

It's not the same world of dance music it was in 1999 or 2009, but it doesn't look like years away have slowed down Basement Jaxx in the slightest. Junto is a joyous, celebratory return. While it won't necessarily surprise any fans with controversial new turns or brash new sounds, it's a welcome addition to the band's stellar catalogue. Basement Jaxx exist in a celestial, ageless land of sound, color, and dance, and nothing has changed with their landing on the terrestrial plane.

Junto is out this week through Atlantic! Grab it on CD or vinyl at your local record store. Basement Jaxx currently have no North American dates posted for the rest of 2014, but let's hope and pray they post some soon on their website.

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