So This Is Goodbye
he sweat’s for the dancefloor. Dance-based pop music, at least the fourth-generation revision built for home-consumption, is always tagged with frosty adjectives, distilled to any number of twists on the word ‘cold.’ But in 2004, the Junior Boys were living up to the chill in a way that Gibbard and Tamborello could only achieve with a winter’s air conditioning. Jeremy Greenspan knew the cruelty of late-night trafficking, but most importantly, he understood the art of self-deception—always the seed of one’s ability to look for love again—upon which it feeds. After all, we never want to know WHY it ends, but rather how we can feed it back to ourselves as something we might remember as possible.
Circa 2006, the JB’s have changed from the outside in. Johnny Dark, the founder and widely considered the instrumental creator of their early period, left long ago. As Greenspan’s noted in the past, it’s hard to tease out just who was responsible for what, and perhaps unnecessary, but a look at the material at hand lends some insight. Gone, for example, are the muscled stutter-beats upon which so much of Last Exit was based. Instead, Greenspan and former engineer Matthew Didemus suffuse their songs with distance and quiet, making So This Is Goodbye more aerial, more willing to stretch away from its predecessor’s knuckled beat-structures. Greenspan has spoken in interviews about his new taste for ‘70s MOR and disco, and certainly his new podlist is reflected in these songs. The JBs trademarked synthscapes sound almost threadbare, giving Greenspan plenty of room to smooth out the wrinkles and tears in his love life. In fact, one of the most immediate changes is how Greenspan’s pushed himself to the fore, and the duo’s increased reliance on his vocals pays off in a new emphasis on song and melody. Where Last Exit was indebted to the clubbier side of dance pop—with its tendency to wind songs around Dark’s close-clipped beats—So This Is Goodbye is a post-aught pop record first and foremost, an elegant, spacious collection of flash-frozen R&B and soft disco laments.
But ultimately, perhaps the distinction lies in the birth of its creation; Last Exit was patchy and uneven, and many of the best cuts (“Birthday,” “High Come Down,” the title track) were already fan favorites from the teaser twelve-inches. So This Is Goodbye’s long gestation and the road-testing of many of these songs from extensive recent touring seem to have aided the duo in massaging them into an album-proper, and into one of the year’s great full-lengths.
While their musical bedrock may have undergone a slight seismic shift, lyrically, their drama unfolds in the same old place. So This Is Goodbye is a synthetic plea to the complications of keeping love intact. Nothing’s spelled out though, or when it is, the language and syntax are jumbled and full of cut-out phrasings and imagery; there are hints and accusations, recriminations even, against vague, half-formed figures. Greenspan takes solace in his uncertainty; he has his own ideas of why he’s alone now, mouthing these strange blurbs to the wall, but he’s piecing together a story that both can see as, if not true, at least retellable. He wants to gauge your reaction before he assembles the rest.
Take opener “Double Shadow,” where Greenspan utters random slurs over pinging synths and gristled dub effects: “you’re two-faced while sideways. . .your thin jokes and split spokes. . .you catch up, you young pup, you old dog, you good fuck.” The result is a rough balance of scorn and wounded pride. He’s just now coming at these words. There’s taunting; there’s sensual pairing; there’s a doppelganger approach to the song’s attempt to find a reason or a cure when he reminds you “You’re my double shadow.”
Elsewhere, a cover of Frank Sinatra’s “When No One Cares”—with its speaker-panning synth bleats and reverberating piano—becomes a dim, closeted electronic ballad, where “The Equalizer,” with its snaking melody, clapsmack beats, and cushy soul chorus is a lover’s bitterness: “Springtime, you’re gonna wish that we were friends / That we talk, you’ll never feel so sure again.” The programming for both is welcoming, well-cushioned, not hopeful but soothing at least, offering Greenspan here a comfort his lyrics can’t trace.
But the duo also knows how to put a little gravel in its compositions. “First Time” opens with grumbling analogue tones and lockstep beats before Greenspan’s voice, with its homespun soul affect, covers up the dirt, while “Count Souvenirs” uses its beehive tones and crumbling, static-ringed beats to set a cathedral-toned abeyance. Musically, it’s one of the album’s more schizophrenic constructs, combining fluttering Hall and Oates soul-pop with a sharp underbelly of confusion. It’s a solemn urban prayer, as Greenspan returns time and again to the lines “Please, please don’t touch.” Unsteady, concerned only at this point with the insecurities between him and this new other, and not the spaces that will eventually widen and separate, Greenspan plays the once-burned who’s too soft to callous but still wants to protect himself.
A clear choice for lead single, “In the Morning” finds Greenspan stained by the album’s prolonged, anonymous dissolution, but its full-bellied beats and scintillating melody try, perhaps impossibly, to shake the velvet gloom. It’s practically Saturnalian by comparison. Yet, like the heart-worn depressive whose friends encourage him to get out once in a while, to meet some new people, the end of “Morning” leaves Greenspan alone again, naturally. There’s a deserted skyline feel to the title track’s digitalistic house, pink and dry and cool before the morning, one of the rare moments where the duo lets its club-tendencies get the better of their newly-keen pop ears. The Caucasian soul of “Like a Child” however, wants solitude in the company of two, a woozily refined slice of electronic comfort food.
In the end though, So This Is Goodbye’s low to mid-level tempos threaten to become a little too still. “Caught in a Wave” never really grows out of its flat dubby textures, and backed by the coupling of “When No One Cares” with “FM,” the final third begins to drag. But, as with the rest of the album, the pensive drift of the duo’s songcraft overcomes these sequencing issues. In fact, “FM” is the most glorious cut in their closet, a Japanese Carp garden of popping box-rhythms and arpeggiated tones. As a breath of static sandpapers through the track’s smooth lines, Greenspan gives us a note of summation. Fittingly, it’s not a word, but a climactic, lung-spent sigh: “oooooooooh, oooh-ooooh-oooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.” Really, Jeremy, by now, that’s more than you had to say.