During the past five years since Jeremy Greenspan and Matthew Didemus last released an album - 2011s It’s All True - dancefloor intended electro geek-pop has become a tried and tested formula; Soft Metals, LCD Soundsystem, Caribou, Chromatics and M83 have all proved the sound is friendly to the long playing format, up to and during their absence.
Junior Boys can arguably claim to being one of the first acts to fuse oblique pop, glitch and RnB. It’s a template they’ve closely adhered to since their 2004 debut Last Exit, and one which has become so familiar to anything with their names attached.
That familiarity could easily result in musical lethargy in lesser skilled hands, but there are noticeable tweaks to their sound this time round. For one thing, it’s pretty obvious they've been dosing up on their techno; most of the drum patterns and synth atmospherics are straight from the more melodic artists from the Underground Resistance label, though there are also nods to more contemporary producers such as Jon Talabot and Jamie Jones.
Although typically intimate and complex, Big Black Coat operates best when they strip away the intricacies and play it straight. "Over It", a moment of romantic urgency, is full of yearning and hope, with the jittery new wave influenced beats, pitched down vocals and muffled (see Ariel Pink) production values showing them operating at the height of their power.
The hesitant late '90s hip-hop production values of “Come On Baby” prove to be just as effective. The Giorgio Moroder-esque bass bubbling and rising synth patterns which burst into some kind of swirling musical head rush during the latter half is a lesson in making something highly synthetic, but deeply emotive at the same time.
The album excels when they focus on dancefloor values, mainly because it’s the most upfront they’ve ever sounded - and therefore something new from them - but also because they prove to be so damn good at it. The propulsive 4/4’s of their cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won't Do For Love” re-imagines the slick funk of the original as a storming Simian Mobile Disco remix of a Jam and Lewis era Janet Jackson single, whereas the sinister tech-sizzle-italo fusion of the title track, lysergic unease of “And It’s Forever” and huge chorus and acid squiggles of “M & P” are all cuts that could easily tear up a dance floor, while still dripping with the kind of sophistication and level of detail that you’d expect from the duo.
Unfortunately, there are times where they follow a route which - although executed with trademark effortless flair - is a sound so prevalent that it’s hard to differentiate them with the likes of Hot Chip or !!!. “Baby Give Up On It” with its uplifting sentiment and analogue drum patterns is a little too laboured, “Love Is A Fire” isn’t much beyond a hi-hat, minimal bass and hard to dance to beats, while “Baby Don’t Hurt Me”, albeit a very, very sweet thing, wishes it lived on the B-side of George Michael’s 1987 breakthrough solo debut "Fait"h a little too hard. But all in all, Big Black Coat is another strong release from Junior Boys, a much needed warm hug during these cold winter nights.