Canadian electronic duo Junior Boys‘ third LP might be the year’s first serious foray into electronic pop, which is interesting when you consider that many of last year’s best albums – by artists like Hot Chip, Cut Copy, and Friendly Fire - were firmly planted in the genre. Still, the dance floor’s been conspicuously quiet when it comes to the electro pop’s big names. Although Begone Dull Care might not be the watershed release that its predecessor So This is Goodbye was, it’s going to make an impact: if not on year-end lists, then at least in clubs.
The strength of Begone Dull Care rests in its willingness to try the listener’s patience - with partners Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus doing just that. The album is titled after the abstract short film of the same name, which itself has earned historical significance for its use of painting and scratching on the film itself. This allusion makes sense once you imagine the creators’ playful baiting of the audience with well-placed obstructions — you know what’s going on, but you never quite get what’s happening. Most of the tracks are monotonous in the best sense of the word. The beeps and blips that are the starting point for a song’s rhythm continue for the duration of a track without much variation. At the album’s most dynamic moments, a heavier beat appears for a brief bridge before fading away and leaving behind the song’s skeletal beeps. There are no huge deviations in rhythm or tone at any point, but you can feel the tension for change lurking just beyond.
Your instinct is to expect a climax — a payoff that makes sense of the repetition, yet, the peak never comes. In fact, the moment you think it might arrive is often the exact place where the song ends. That’s not to say Begone Dull Care is all tease and no delivery, it’s just a different kind of delivery. Consider last year’s releases by Hot Chip and Cut Copy: each album had its share of meditative tracks, and almost always the songs cut loose for a momentary dance party. Not so here. Listen to “Dull to Pause”, a gentle love song that is more than ready to be license to a car commercial. Where you start is where you end, but the result is as satisfying as a jaunt on a bright Sunday morning. It’s almost corny in its appeal, but it works.
“Bits and Pieces” and “Hazel” are fun ventures into early 90’s R&B and dance. Between the harmonies and keytar-ready synths, they’re the best homage to a much maligned period of music that just wanted to make people dance. “Work” culls it sound from Chorus era Erasure, alluding to a period when mainstream pop was still somewhat brainy, yet playful.
“Parallel Lines” irresistible groove stands it out above the rest of the tracks. This is the song that makes you wish you were cool and might even let you believe you are for six and a half minutes. Lyrically it is the album’s cleverest tune, drawing a metaphor between two lovers and memorized words. The words are hushed just enough to melt into the music for an extended chillout session.
If the album falters, it’s in its penchant for lengthy running times. Seven minutes begin to feel like 10 when nothing new happens. That repetition that works so well in most of the album bogs down some otherwise winning tracks. Although this was an issue on the duo’s previous work, it’s particularly apparent on Begone Dull Care because it has only eight tracks and most of them run a longer than you’d expect, with two running longer than they should. Still, the few drawbacks are easily outweighed by the infectious pop buried in this electronic R&B.