After two albums spent making puppy eyes from behind their synthesizers, Junior Boys finally decided that the perks of being wallflowers couldn’t quite compete with the allure of the club, and with 2009’s Begone Dull Care, they winced their way onto the dance floor and proved distinctly mediocre at setting bodies in motion. It’s All True takes a sullen half-back step into the Junior Boys’ mood-lit comfort zone, sounding not so much like capitulation than the chastened partying that follows an especially bad hangover: Last night things got a little out of hand, so tonight they’re just having a few friends over to drink and play old dance records. As such, the ‘80s R&B and disco influences from their last outing remain intact, though they’re employed mostly as accent colors to the tense, gray-scaled electro-pop that earned the duo its early critical plaudits.
Chilly tunes like “Playtime” and “Kick the Can” can be appreciated as throwbacks to fan favorite Last Exit, but their melodies don’t stick in the head quite like that album’s highlights, suggesting that Junior Boys don’t quite have their hearts in the aloof-and-brooding business anymore. When they go all minimal and minor-key, they just sound like they’re holding back.
Sobriety is a losing sound and, sure enough, it’s the hair-of-the-dog approach that winds up being vindicated, as Junior Boys come closest to shaking off the weight of their previous flub when they move doggedly back toward the dancier ends of the electro-pop spectrum. Closer “Banana Ripple” is unquestionably the highlight of the album, a nine-minute floorbuster that cribs equally from Off the Wall-era MJ and New Order circa Low Life. It also gives Jeremy Greenspan a generous vocal showcase, which I’ll go ahead and admit he deserves: Unfazed by his whiteness or his Canadian-ness, Greenspan has stepped up his R&B-styled vocals with every album, and damn if this isn’t another solid bid for the Most Improved Vocalist award.
Save for a gauzy, harmony-driven number called the “The Reservoir,” It’s All True‘s returns diminish exactly at a pace with its level of introspection, with most of the album’s first half making no serious claim on the listener’s attention. Tack the strong, if non-committal, opener, “Itchy Fingers,” onto a playlist with the best of the second act and you’re left with an EP’s worth of high-gloss mood music, roughly equivalent to the middle-tier tracks on a Hot Chip or Notwist album. Now that they’ve offered a penitent to submission to their pop-classicist superegos, let’s hope that Junior Boys will have the good bad judgment to give their glittery ids run of the DJ booth next time.