“This place is like a time capsule,” said Jeremy Greenspan between songs at the Black Cat on Tuesday night. “It hasn’t changed in 15 years.”
Jeremy, vocalist and guitarist of Canadian synthpop duo Junior Boys, recalled playing perhaps his second show ever in the United States at the Black Cat soon after it took up residence at its current location in 2001. On Tuesday, Junior Boys appeared again to perform songs from their alluring new album, Big Black Coat, released last month via City Slang to critical acclaim.
If the Cat hasn’t changed much, the music of Junior Boys at least has matured in some interesting ways.
The new album is the first from Junior Boys in five years, and the time off seems to have been really good for them creatively. Jeremy and synthesizer player Matt Didemus enthralled a very full room at the Black Cat with their blend of technopop and R&B, giving the new songs their opportunity to shine alongside established favorites.
Jeremy brings a relaxed intensity to his guitar as he croons softly on songs like “Over It,” a smooth come-on to a pretty baby who’s “afraid to go home.” I’m tempted to contrast Junior Boys to another synthy Canadian duo Chromeo, but Junior Boys are far more mellow and buttoned down than their funky countrymen, although they both spend a lot of time appealing to their would-be lovers.
“Over It” also demonstrates some wonderfully organic sounds that mark the evolution of Junior Boys from some early glitch-pop experiments. Halfway through the song, Jeremy plays some inspired guitar, which drives some urgency into the smooth groves of the number. The Junior Boys’ touring drummer, whose name I cannot uncover for the life of me, proves a real asset as he does a really nice job of layering rhythm on top of what the boys do.
Watch Junior Boys perform “Over It” live in Studio q for CBC on Feb. 5, 2016:
Other new songs showcase soaring synths from Matt, such as with “C’mon Baby,” a song that evokes dreaming of your lover. Here, the band fully embrace their techno roots but also get sophisticated with some atmospheric synth stylings that remind you of what these guys are all about.
Watch Junior Boys play “C’Mon Baby” live in their Hamilton studio space in a CBC Music First Play Live session on Feb. 12, 2016:
Of course, in a crowd pleasing set of 13 songs, Junior Boys don’t dwell on the new album alone. They close out the entire show with “Banana Ripple,” a popular selection from their 2011 album, It’s All True. “Banana Ripple” showcases Junior Boys’ penchant for great dance tunes via four-on-the-floor beats and true techno flair. Hearing the song also underscores how Junior Boys have really gotten quite smooth in the time since their last release, and how that smoothness really extends the band’s musical personality quite well.
Junior Boys continue their tour tonight in New York City at Webster Hall, and keep on going through the United States and Canada to wrap their current tour in Chicago on April 16. They also were just announced as part of an astounding lineup at the FYF Festival in Los Angeles on August 27-28 -– a festival that also will feature Kendrick Lamar, LCD Soundsystem, Father John Misty, Hot Chip, Moby and many many others. Wherever they are, catch them for some groovy good tunes.
Here are a few more hazy photos of Jeremy and Matt in action at the Black Cat: