Following Junior Boys’ world tour for their 2011 record, It’s All True, Jeremy Greenspan was exhausted, burnt out, and questioning everything. Looking for something fresh and exciting to put his energy into — and without the weight of baggage or expectations — Greenspan and his creative burnout led him to working with fellow Hamilton, Ontario resident Jessy Lanza. He helped produce her debut album, 2013’s Pull Your Hair Back, for the revered electronic label Hyperdub.

Pull My Hair Back performed better than either artist could’ve predicted, kickstarting a prolific and productive musical collaboration which has inspired both musicians and pushed them to new heights. Working with Lanza also reinvigorated Greenspan into working on new Junior Boys material, which has culminated in their most recent release, the excellent and well-received Big Black Coat, which many critics are calling “Junior Boys’ best work in a decade.”

Greenspan makes no bones about the inspiration this fertile collaboration, telling DIY Magazine, “I wanted to make something that sounded different and not like our older material. Working with Jessy was the catalyst for it… We did a bunch of new things. The song ‘Come On Baby’ is the first song that I wrote for the new album where I thought that this is sufficiently different and unusual for us and exciting to me to warrant doing this.”

Lanza’s new opus, Oh No, will be released in May 2016, again on Hyperdub. Both Big Black Coat and Oh No were recorded simultaneously, making them sort-of sibling records. It only makes sense to consider them side-by-side, to see where one artist begins and the other one ends.

Junior Boys – Big Black Coat (City Slang)

Junior Boys - Big Black Coat Album Review

Junior Boys have traditionally worked in a kind of hyper-meticulous ‘future pop’ that was en vogue in the late ’90s and early ’00s, when ravers and club fiends were notoriously allergic to dirt and grit. Everything was recorded, clean and sterile, in the audio equivalent of an IKEA catalog. Big Black Coat is somewhat different.

Invigorated by the quick, intuitive working methods Greenspan developed alongside Lanza while working on Pull My Hair Back, the record hearkens back to Greenspan’s Industrial/EBM roots, inspired by acts like Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, and John Foxx. Like those artists, Big Black Coat sounds charmingly retro-futuristic, recalling a period in the late ’70s when immediacy was favored over perfection, as found in the proto-industrial synthpunk of bands like Suicide or the blurry, amorphous sequencer hacking of The Berlin School musicians like Tangerine Dream, Cluster, and Klaus Schulze.

Like those artists, individual elements are left rough and tumble, with every drum hit and sparse synth line seeming to exist in its own acoustic space.

Rather than being some attempt at creating an authentic archaeological forgery, however, Greenspan also draws inspiration from newer avant-garde beat-oriented material — in this case, DJ Mustard, on standout single “C’mon Baby”. He also takes inspiration from the working class pub down the road in his hometown of Hamilnton, Ontario. Speaking to The Guardian on how he interpreted these themes, Greenspan speaks of frustrated young men who can’t understand women yet desire them. Big Black Coat recreates these at times hostile pub environments. The word “Baby” becomes a shorthand for a kind of wordless emotional longing as the song focuses on hopelessness and alcoholism, watching the comings and goings of working class blokes; outsiders in big black coats.

Jessy Lanza – Oh No (Hyperdub)

Jessy Lanza - Oh No Album Review

Lanza also uses the word “Baby”, albeit in shortened form, on “Oh No” and “I Talk BB”. Lanza’s version features a similarly pulsing square wave baseline and drilling hi-hats as Junior Boys’ “C’mon Baby”, but features a high-pitched, Mariah Carey-like wordless exhortation that sounds anything but worried — which might make sense, as Lanza would likely be the target for these pent-up frustrations.

Lanza’s “Oh No” is equally inspired by Hamilton, and the world in general, but moreso by its absence. The title summarizes Lanza’s “almost perpetual state of anxiety” in two short, sinister syllables. To combat these anxieties, however, Lanza turned to an unlikely source: tropical plants. She had become convinced that the air in her home was slowly poisoning them, and began filling every square inch with vibrant greenery, which is reflected on the album cover and the music video for “It Means I Love You”.

Oh No, like the tropical plants filling Lanza’s home, is a reflection on the small rituals and superstitions we adopt, to try and survive in an increasingly chaotic world. The idea that some palm fronds — or some soulful techno-pop — could help us deal with religious zealots, environmental poisons, and rampant inequality of all kinds, is pretty preposterous when spelled out on the page. And yet we all do it, each and every day. How else are we going to survive with wits intact?

Yet considering the anxious origins of Oh No, Lanza sounds surprisingly untroubled, coming across like the peppy Cyndi Lauper or young Madonna to Jeremy Greenspan’s Martin Gore or Gary Numan. It’s the sound of making up your own universe, and living in it. Oh No seems to suggest that Lanza is coping with the world by simply not going out there. Greenspan’s productions, in this context, operate as the glass walls of a greenhouse, for Lanza’s orchids and tiger lilies to flourish and bloom. We might assume that plenty of naked dance parties take place there, and safe, comfortable dinners with a few close friends.


Both Oh No and Big Black Coat sound as if they are emanating from a cocoon, thanks to Greenspan’s hissy, fizzy production style. Junior Boys sound as if they are carrying that cocoon with them, wherever they go, like titular outerwear, while Lanza sounds as if she is the architect of her own uninverse, and is happy there. Both artists operate within the greater confines of the depressive rustbelt galaxy of Hamilton, but are dealing with it in their own ways.

There’s more similarities than differences, however, with both Junior Boys and Jessy Lanza mining a kind of plastic ’80s soul/funk, like vintage Michael Jackson and early Prince, arc welding it together with rigid, jittery technological sounds. Both are reinvigorating the wide-open, futuristic potential that synthpop promised but never delivered, making high quality and imaginative art, without sweating all of the tiny details. This pair of twinned albums also goes to show that we all — men and women and all points between alike, have more in common than differences. We just cope in different ways.

Ω

 

Jessy Lanza – “It Means I Love You” (Live)

Junior Boys – “C’mon Baby” (Live)

(Visited 206 times, 1 visits today)