Album Review: Junior Boys - Big Black Coat

Album Reviews
02/10/2016
Gerrit Feenstra

Junior Boys return this week with their first record in five years. Listening to it, it's hard to picture the space in between. Truly, the electronic scene to which the Ontario duo belong has seen a massive shift in that time period, largely towards a directive that Junior Boys initiated. For comparative context, think about Dan Snaith releasing Caribou record Swim in 2010, then his Daphni garage-style side project JIALONG in 2012, then Our Love a year and a half ago back in 2014. And now, here we are in 2016, still catching up with Junior Boys' It's All True, whose R&B and UK garage vibes held terrain for an unheard of amount of time for the genre. And now, it's time to hear from Greenspan and Didemus again, with Big Black Coat - a record that, in a lot of ways, veers a hard left from the pristine R&B polish of It's All True. Junior Boys enter 2016 with a Detroit techno influenced record of hard hitting, fast moving magic. Herein, Junior Boys have their most accessible record yet, albeit in sonic territory that exists far outside the present realm of trend. It looks like Junior Boys are back to set another precedent, in the style and the mastery that we can expect from them.

Five full years down the road, the first thing you notice on Big Black Coat is fluidity. There isn't a single moment on the return record where the energy dips or shifts in an inorganic fashion. The album opens with the slow burn of "You Say That", building and building over five minutes without bursting (not unlike It's All True opener "Itchy Fingers" in execution) before "Over It" grabs you and doesn't let go until you're up with the tempo. Then, downtempo groove "C'Mon Baby" provides the perfect emotional segue into side A's two undisclosed gems, "Baby Give Up On It" and "M & P", the two of which continue one back to back groove to the soaring heights we can always expect from Junior Boys, all outside the boundaries of their press-released singles. Finally, side A ends with the interlude cool down of "No One's Business", before side B kicks off with ruthless Bobby Caldwell cover "What You Won't Do For Love". Truly, the time apart has done nothing to dilute Greenspan and Didemus's sensibility for cohesive reaction.

Perhaps the second thing you notice about Junior Boys' return is the static on the image - the fuzz on the lens. If there's anything that defined the explosive drive from Last Exit all the way through It's All True, it's been the concept of increasing the gloss factor without sacrificing intricacy. And really, Junior Boys did that incredibly well through that point. But whatever influenced them to pursue another alternative - whether it was Greenspan's work with Caribou in the interim period or a more general desire to go "back to basics" (whatever that could even mean in Junior Boys lexicon) - the result is seen full well in Big Black Coat's sound, album art, and general artistic directive: the fuzz is good. Here, Junior Boys return without fear of showing their seams. In fact, the fearlessness in that regard maybe makes them more accessible than ever before. Of course, there's no lack of complexity here - rather, Big Black Coat finds plenty of ways to baffle, surprise, and dazzle. But I think here, especially with the likes of the title track and "What You Won't Do For Love", Greenspan and Didemus have embraced the raw kinetic energy of Detroit techno and UK garage in ways they haven't in a decade, and they do it with flying colors.

If Big Black Coat embodies any singular ideal, it's the one emanated by the title track. "Everybody wants to be in a big black coat", Greenspan sings, "everyone wants to have your style". The chorus echoes a sentiment of not wanting to be downplayed, all over a rising Detroit techno groove that echoes the definitive palette yet feels fresh and new and sensual. It's a territory of love and sound that only Junior Boys could tackle. It's the same territory braved on "Love Is A Fire" and even all the way back at opener "You Say That". "We made love and now we're both alone, but you say that I am the dirty one", Greenspan sings, opening the album without any context yet revealed for the conflict. Throughout Big Black Coat, it's a minefield of contradicting ideals and desires, all with one goal in mind: comfort. Just like the cover art embodies, isolation in the middle of a magnetic field of color, all guarded warm and escapist in a shroud of darkness. It's in this feeling where the new record feels most like a logical follow to It's All True and Begone Dull Care. Junior Boys are braving new sonic and emotional territory, and with the sound of Big Black Coat, their exploratory days are far from over.

Big Black Coat is out now on City Slang! Grab it at your local record store on CD or vinyl. Junior Boys will tour in support of the new record, and they hit the Neptune on March 11! Grab tickets here.

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