Into the past or on to the future? That's the push-pull current that charges the Junior Boys. The tension is even casually present during an interview with the Canadian duo's singer and veteran member, Jeremy Greenspan. Discussing the '80s new wave influences floating through the second Junior Boys album, 2006's So This Is Goodbye (Domino), Greenspan stresses that he discovered such sounds through dance music Goldie sampling Japan, for example rather than stadium rock or indie rock, and then declares, "I listen to OMD and Ultravox and Japan and Simple Minds and hear a lot of potential for new and exciting things." Yet later, when the conversation turns to So This Is Goodbye's lyrics, he says, "For me the central theme of the album is nostalgia."
Greenspan isn't contradicting himself. One of the rich pleasures of So This Is Goodbye, a rare modern-day recording that keeps on giving in the manner of a well-crafted album, is the way it delves deep into music and personal memories from decades past while also crafting a signature sound. One of its best tracks, "Count Souvenirs," blooms from the instantly haunting chime motif Greenspan and partner Matt Didemus create, a melody that echoes Depeche Mode's "Strangelove." Yet the subtlety of Greenspan's singing and his words could give Dave Gahan a lesson in how to channel the crooner era without being as tacky as an endless engagement in Las Vegas purgatory.
"I had this idea of our record being a kind of electronic crooner record," says Greenspan, who cites the likes of Nat King Cole, Chet Baker, and Frank Sinatra as inspirations. An arctic cover of one of Sinatra's staple sad ballads, the Sammy CahnJimmy van Heusen composition "When No One Cares," is perhaps So This Is Goodbye's major fulcrum, with lyrics that hook backward into the titles of songs that precede it, such as the trinket-obsessed "Count Souvenirs" and the deathly call for affection "Like a Child," in which Perrey and Kingsleylike blips slowly give way to ghostly harmonies.
A mordant, morbid sensibility has long been dominant within the Junior Boys. This is a group that titled its debut Last Exit (Kin, 2004) and has now given a new EP of remixes the name Dead Horse (Domino, 2007). Loss and melancholy are a major part of the duo's history Greenspan's original partner, Johnny Dark, departed before they'd finished a full-length recording, and Nick Kilroy, a friend who ran the group's original label, Kin, died in 2005. So This Is Goodbye begins with "Double Shadow," whose core image suggests both self-recrimination and a sense of being haunted. "I suppose there is some Freudian way of reading it as a song directed inward," Greenspan says when asked about the track, which builds to a taut climax, at which its complex syncopation seems to turn inside out.
As an interview subject, Greenspan has a flair for dramatic phrasing that is comparatively subdued in his Junior Boys lyrics. He discusses styles of vocalization and the direct sensuality of his speech-based approach in comparison to current singing clichés, targeting "the U2 syndrome" (of "trying to sound as big and histrionic as possible") and "the American Idol effect" (in which "whoever can sing the loudest with the most notes" is deemed especially emotional). There is a Morrissey-esque quality to some of his pronouncements, such as his early Smithslike notion that "love songs never accurately portray what love and sex is all about."
Morrissey could use a songwriting partner as creatively sympathetic as Didemus, whose relatively silent presence seems to have helped Greenspan as a singer and a figurehead.