Saturday, November 04, 2006

Junior Boys

The Junior Boys' So This Is Goodbye has quickly become one of my favorite albums of the year. I had not heard a single note of their music before the middle of September, when I bought both Last Exit and the new album. (I had somehow managed to not notice that the also excellent Last Exit was one of the most widely acclaimed records of 2004.)

It was probably this effusive k-punk post that focused my attention on them. I read it again after listening to the cd obsessively for a couple of weeks. Apparently in some quarters the Junior Boys have been labeled "retro", accused of merely hearkening back to the synth-pop of the early 1980s. k-punk takes issue with this, saying that's an absurd irony that many casual listeners would cast the Junior Boys, not the [Arctic Monkeys], as retro. That's because rock has been eternalized, removed from any responsibility to renew itself, whereas electronic pop is cursed to be forever associated with a brief period in the 70s and 80s.
This is an excellent point. I haven't heard the Arctic Monkeys, but I have read a lot of the chatter about them, and the point is clear. How often do we hear about the latest guitar band being touted as the future, when they rarely offer anything stylistically that hasn't been heard before? Then he says:
But the synthpop revivalist tag has always been misleading and reductive in the case of the Junior Boys. Some of the Junior Boys' textures may be borrowed from synthpop but, formally, their songs would be impossible without twenty years of the rave discontinuum.
Which of course I can only take his word for, since I have no history with rave, and I doubt that it's possible at this point to fill in the blanks much. He links to this Dissensus thread where there is an interesting discussion about this question of revivalism, retro, etc, in pop. At one point, Tim F (Finney?) brings up Booka Shade and Villalobos and their influences (disco/house/rave, etc. for Booka Shade; Jon Hassell & IDM, for Villalobos), and whether they are combining these influences in a novel way or merely biting. And the thing is, I like Booka Shade (haven't heard Villalobos yet), but I have no frame of reference for them, other than "generally danceable, cool-sounding, electronic-ish music". But no history: I am unable, right now, to listen to them as part of a continuum, unable to identify their possible antecedents (with minor exceptions). I do wonder, what do you do when you have no real frame of reference for a record? I mean, obviously, I can enjoy it and anything else for whatever reasons I like. That's not the point. I like knowing and understanding the reference points for the music I listen to, but far too often, the music is just out there on its own.

Anyway, I think I'll return to this idea in the future, but for now all I'll say is that the Junior Boys are great, and So This is Goodbye is easily one of my favorite albums of the year.

Before I go, I want to quote another sentence from k-punk's post that I thought was interesting and worthy of more exploration:
So This is Goodbye's songs bear much the same relation to high-energy as the late Sinatra's bore to big band jazz: what was once a communal, dance-oriented music has been hollowed out into a cavernous, contemplative space for the most solitary of musings.
I'm interested in this idea, too: the movement of music (and culture generally) away from the communal toward the solitary, and how much my own musical preferences have been heavily geared towards the solitary even while I increasingly value the communal elsewhere...

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