There was a rumour, just before the release of the last Strokes album, that the nouveau garage band had hooked up with legendary Off The Wall/Thriller producer Quincy Jones for their follow-up to Is This it. Of course, it turned out to be yet more safe white retro CBGBs drone-rock predictably helmed by Gordon Raphael, but it did make one long for the days when indie bands would, if not call upon the services of black/electronic music auteurs, at least attempt to engage with the culture. Circa ’81/’82, the likes of Orange Juice would cover Al Green without irony, while The Human League aped Moroder, and Heaven 17 and ABC absorbed the influence of NYC clubland. To put it in current terms, imagine Franz Ferdinand joining forces with Pharrell Williams. Now, every white group pays lip service to the radical “tic time” and stutter rhythms of Timbaland and The Neptunes. But only Junior Boys?24-year-old technophile Jeremy Greenspan from Hamilton, Canada, and two buddies?have put their money where their mouth is and made an LP steeped in recent avant-dance developments. Last Exit acknowledges everything from the digital funk of Timbaland to UK garage/2-step to clicks and cuts (dance music based on machine faults). Greenspan’s real coup, however, is to combine the dry formalism of, say, Pole and labels such as Mille Plateaux with the wan melodies of his favourite groups?masters of studio confection from Steely Dan to Prefab Sprout and all synth points between?and then deliver this new kind of pop song in the sort of exquisitely forlorn whisper-murmur not heard since Paddy McAloon or Green Gartside. This is where The Wire aesthetic meets early-’80s Smash Hits.
The contrast between romanticism and sonic daring, alien time signatures and freakishly pretty tunes, is irresistible. Greenspan’s unremittingly bleak, crushed world view, put-on or otherwise, expressed on titles such as “High Come Down” and “Teach Me How To Fight”, is no less addictive. No group since New Order has so effectively communicated such pristine woe. Whether or not this signals a future dub-spacious direction for alternative pop music, or a devastating one-off, remains to be seen. But it’s hard to believe there will be a better record than Last Exit released this year.