Big Black Coat

'Big Black Coat' by Junior Boys album review, by Graham Caldwell. The duo's full-length comes out on February 5th

Our Rating

7.4

The first time I remember hearing Junior Boys was driving home late at night in the winter listening to CBC Radio 2; “FM” came on. I was somewhere around 14 years old, and I had just started to discover electronic music and the enticing sounds that it contained. Something about driving back from one “tourist town” to another deep in the cold of the winter gave the song a chilling kind of relevance; Greenspan’s vocals and lyrics managed to sit somewhere between what you wanted to hear and what you wanted to say to someone you loved. Junior Boys have always had a romantic and alluring sense to their music: to put it bluntly, it’s damn sexy.

Big Black Coat, comes at a time that sounds like a logical extension of where their music has been going since they released It’s All True. With a 4 year gap in releases, members Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus have been able to pursue plenty of other creative outlets; Greenspan notably co-wrote and co-produced Jessy Lanza’s well-received debut Pull My Hair Back, while Didemus has since started his own experimental dance label in Germany called Obsession Recordings. The past four years have allowed them to return to this project for its own pleasure and excitement as opposed to any pressures from a label or fans. Something Greenspan has considered “very liberating”.

BBC opens with “You Say That”, which comes in with light trills of hi hat; the rippling percussion of the track carrying the listener through a story of unrequited love, a theme that’s echoed throughout the rest of the album. They even cover Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love”, which you’ve probably heard on a soft rock station while grocery shopping. The song choice is striking because the Boys’ sound and aesthetic seems to owe a fair bit to the smooth sounds of the 80s, but there is something distinctly industrial about the cover. The song is driven by blippy arpeggios and a thumping kickdrum. It feels as though they’re declaring one influence in the song choice, while their others are found within the composition itself. 

As a whole, the compositions on the record ebb and flow from hypnotic to head bopping, showcasing the Boys’ talents as producers as well as songwriters. With most of the songs clocking under 5 minutes, this feels like a more pop-focused record than their previous releases. It’s still trademark Junior Boys, who are able to use synth pop as a medium for something deeply introspective and hands-in-the-air danceable: “Baby Don’t Hurt Me” plays out like a sweet interlude, while “Love is a Fire” is a minimalist piece with rhythms that are both snappy and washed out.

The songs on Big Black Coat, aren’t as enveloping as the title suggests, but they are as mysterious. The reverb-heavy parts of the songs suggest there’s something going on elsewhere, meanwhile the drive of the songs keeps things in the present moment. It’s easy to imagine this particular coat being worn by someone with a crisp, well-manicured surface, covering up the many grinding mechanisms beneath. It’s the kind of thing you think of when you hear Junior Boys: music that’s both clean and dirty. It’s nice to have them back.

review by Graham Caldwell