The Junior Boys must have some serious mixed feelings about the 21st century. On the one hand, DSL modems and cheap bandwidth are the primary tools in the Boys' success story: When little indie KIN heard the duo's demo recordings online, the label begged to release whatever Canadian Jeremy Greenspan and his partner (first Johnny Dark, now Matt Didemus) found time to slap onto ProTools in their bedrooms. That stuff, then heard (again, online) by music bloggers including the inimitable Simon Reynolds, was championed as the "greatest band you've never heard." On the other hand, what if Last Exit, this darkly beautiful, digitally soulful, profoundly futuristic slab of electro pop, had come out in 1984 rather than 2004? Shit, Depeche Mode would still be moping at their day-jobs, drunkenly declaring to uncaring barrooms that they coulda been contenders.
Well, not really. Because Last Exit, the band's two-record debut album now re-released by Domino, may seem like an intuitively accessible mash-up of genres -- electro-pop, UK garage, future-R&B, IDM -- but the fact is, it's too fucked up to be any of the above, at least enough to be recognizable to the public. Sure, Greenspan's vocals are the kind of sad-Brit new-wave bedroom croon that got white boys a lot of play in the '80s, but those lyrics lurch a bit too far from "love song" and too close to "stalker." (The lead-off track and obvious hit single, "More Than Real," for example: "Tonight I've got your number / I even know your street / if you could only meet me / I know we're meant to meet / and if I find you / I know you'll make me feel / make me feel more than real.") And those beats are dance-floor-pleasing mid-tempo blurps -- until they stop cold, and become impressionistic drum-machine stumbles or, as often as not, silence implying a rhythm, like Timbaland's signature missing beats all strung together in a line.
The Junior Boys sound is that of a Blade Runner replicant teen-pop idol, or of what people in 2006 will imagine that people of 1980 thought music of 2010 would sound like. If "intelligent dance music" gave a shit about the "dancing" part of its moniker, it would sound like Junior Boys' "Birthday" or "Bellona." And now that the JB's have figured out how to do it, the hits are bound to fall in line. But probably not for a few years.