My first introduction to Junior Boys was in autumn 2003. I had taken half a year off to travel alone, and I'd just left London, where a friend had given me a copy of the Birthday EP. I'd heard the single once or twice in passing before, but my first meaningful interaction with it wasn't until later that week, on a nine-hour night train ride from Austria to Budapest. I listened to the whole EP on repeat that night, its brittle rhythms and gleaming synths coalescing with the dark shapes and city lights in constant renewal on the other side of my window, the unfamiliarity of my surroundings giving it all a further resonance.
There are special songs, and there are special memories, but if you're one of those nostalgia-bitten people for whom neither seem quite vivid enough on their own, nothing matches what happens when the two dovetail. The beauty of these moments is they refuse to be architected-- we can't force them any more than we can explain them. And while the Junior Boys aren't magicians, they speak the language of that magic as well as anyone making music today. (In the band's official bio, K-Punk blog's Mark Fisher writes that So This Is Goodbye is a "travel sick" record-- I'd go him one further and say that specific sensation of travel sickness is at stake every time they set out to make music.)
Just their second full-length overall, So This Is Goodbye isn't just an improbable notch above 2004's Last Exit-- it's also among the best records you'll hear all year. The first complete album made by vocalist Jeremy Greenspan without the aid of founding member and presumed rhythmic engine Johnny Dark, it finds the Boys (now rounded out by onetime engineer Matthew Didemus) working within comparatively streamlined song structures, the rhythmic capriciousness that so strongly informed their debut all but erased from the whiteboard. And yet, despite this radical formal departure, Goodbye draws out so many of the same sensations and colors that it feels like a natural next step. If anything, the absence of those slippery rhythm tracks puts the focus even more squarely on Greenspan, who delivers with a record full of elegant melodies.
Beyond the glowing synthlines, frigid percussions, and Greenspan's marvellously tensile voice (imagine Ben Gibbard with much higher cheekbones), the Junior Boys' greatest weapon is space. With an economical 10 tracks spread out over nearly 49 minutes, the pop in So This Is Goodbye is hardly immediate; instead, its songs are allowed to percolate and unfurl. On paper, especially to the average thrillseeker, that might sound a bit offputting, but it's not like these are all ballads, either. Opener "Double Shadow" begins with a gentle pattering sequence of synth beads but blooms into a smartly melodic slice of electrohouse that Booka Shade would be proud to call their own. Elsewhere, with its serrated analog lead, gushy pads, skipping rhythms, and pressurized vocals, "The Equalizer" accounts for one of the album's finest arrangements, while the uptempo first single "In The Morning" finds Greenspan merging icy r&b with 4AD's warm guitar sounds to beautiful effect.
In the end, though, the biggest goosebumps come courtesy of the slowburners. The penultimate track "When No One Cares" recasts the Sinatra standard as a wobbly space ballad, closer "FM" crosses the finish line in an unhurried cloud of staccato arpeggios and warm harmonies, and standout "Count Souvenirs" marries liquefied synths and keening minor-key melodies with the album's starkest imagery ("Empty stalls and shopping malls that we'll never see again/ Hotel lobbies like painful hobbies that linger on"). Finally, the album’s title track finds Greenspan singing: "So this is goodbye, no need to lie/ This creature of pain, has found me again/ So this is goodbye," possibly in reference to Dark, or to his departed former label head Nick Kilroy, or to someone else entirely. It's the album's heartbeat, as well as one of its weightiest moments-- an acknowledgment that in times of despair the best course of action is often just to keep moving. Wanderlust never sounded so good.
-Mark Pytlik, August 10, 2006