The opening note of "Double Shadow," the first song from Junior Boys' So This is Goodbye, is a spare and tough keyboard riff. It thrusts and punches as Jeremy Greenspan sings, "You're two-faced/All sideways/You're dry-eyed/In night flight." As the bass and drum rhythms kick in, the song slowly opens, rocking back and forth. The keyboard goes soft, its tone lightens and the warmth of Greenspan's voice becomes all-enveloping. "You're my double shadow," he chants breathily.
Greenspan's voice is an expressive, evocative thing. He sounds feminine and sensuous, like a lover whispering a secret in your ear. His auditory warmth, however, lingers over a landscape as profound in its psychological depth as its physical isolation.
"My record is kind of a Canadian record, because it's about open space," says Greenspan of So This is Goodbye. He and musician Matt Didemus, who make up the Junior Boys, live in Hamilton, Ontario, a place the former describes as densely populated yet carved out of a wilderness in the middle of nowhere. "I like making songs that reflect the atmosphere of living in a place like this," says Greenspan. "The city I'm from is kind of like a big highway. There are all these different highways that intersect throughout the city. When you're in Canada, when you drive throughout Canada, you often feel like you're this little tiny thing inside of this vast nothingness."
Motion, agoraphobia, bittersweet memories and other sensations pulse through Junior Boys' albums, which encompasses 2004's Last Exit and So This Is Goodbye, the latter released earlier this month. On the surface, Greenspan's lyrics sound like intimations, details of furtive and alienated love affairs. There are songs like "Double Shadow" and "The Equalizer," names that serve as shorthand for certain types of liaisons. Greenspan argues that he isn't singing about specific people, however, but feelings that are stimulated by things. Those reactions to inanimate objects, he believes, can be as strong as those generated by interpersonal relationships.
"This new record has to deal with certain types of nostalgia, and a sort of melancholic obsession with objects, with places and with things," he says. "Oftentimes I find that, as a songwriter, you try and filter or distill all of the things that you see and feel around you as honestly as possible. Often what comes out is rather abstract."
For example, Greenspan covers "When No One Cares," a jazz standard written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Heusen and made famous on Frank Sinatra's 1959 album No One Cares. "[Sinatra's] songs, which are filled with feelings of regret and despair, are [seemingly] over a person or a woman. But the songs are not actually about that," he says. "They're often about a place. He'll sing a song about a street, or he'll sing a song about 'A Cottage for Sale,' which is about a cottage that's in decay."
On "Count Souvenirs," Greenspan catalogs "A pair of shoes/Some old reviews/That you kicked behind the door." It winds around the chorus: "So please, please don't touch." He connects these totems to "shopping malls that we'll never see again" and "hotel lobbies like painful hobbies that linger on." "On another road, in another road kept in a jar," he mulls in a fragile and damaged lilt.
Junior Boys communicate these ideas through warm electronic dance music. The sounds, which Greenspan and Didemus collaborate on together, are beautifully light and reference house and techno's kinetic movements alongside winsome and accessible melodies. Greenspan simply calls it pop music, comparing his group to Hall & Oates (ostensibly the "I Can't Go For That" years), Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein and Scritti Politti.
"I like to think of what we do as part of a pop-music tradition as much as possible," says Greenspan. "I think the beauty of pop music is that there is no real particular aesthetic. Anything can be subsumed into pop music, and that's what is interesting about it. There are no particular restrictions other than that people like it."
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