The Robotic Romance of Junior Boys' Big Black Coat

The duo embrace heartbreak and 808s.

“There’s a little piece of me inside you, but you don’t know, you don’t know,” Jeremy Greenspan sings on the first track of Junior Boys’ Big Black Coat, “You Say That.” It’s a line that sets the tone for the album, the Canadian duo’s first in nearly five years. Big Black Coat is a deeply sensual techno record that lures you to the dance floor, but it’s fraught with coldness and missed connections. It’s a record that plays as dynamically as any bad breakup: It apologetically pleads for love one moment but turns cold the next, its synths lush and its beats urgent, Greenspan’s vocals breath-on-your-neck close and then crooning “Baby, baby” while mournfully receding into the reverberating distance.

Part of what makes Big Black Coat so unnerving is its purposeful use of repetition. Particularly lyrically, BBC feels like a meditation. Greenspan’s voice maintains a sort of double-edged seduction comparable to Colin Blunstone’s soft persuasion on “Time of the Season.” In the record's use of the word “baby” like a mantra, the word emerges as a mere outline of a lover to be beckoned, pushed away, adored forever. During the writing process, the duo would pen a song with a nonsense vocal melody, intending on filling it in later, but the placeholder “became a kind of anchor,” Greenspan said in an interview.

All the sweet talk and playful innuendo in Big Black Coat’s lyrics feel abstractly retro, Beach Boys–appropriate sensibility to Junior Boys’ affections -- as if they were drawing from a history of dance music that never hit lemme-do-you disco-puberty. On the minimalist “Baby Don’t Hurt Me,” Greenspan’s voice is reverbed, singing above a dreary keyboard and basic drum-machine beat, repeating the song’s title as if he were a cornered lounge singer in a David Lynch film. The record’s ripped-up-Hallmark-card lyrics put the duo’s up-tempo electronica in high contrast, becoming its own story.

But Big Black Coat’s adoration, no matter how lovey-dovey on paper, can have a sinister undercurrent. Every once in awhile a line so vague slips in that it makes you question what the song’s really about. “The night is gone, but you’re afraid to go home,” sings Greenspan in the thumping, strobe-light-worthy “Over It”; the upbeat track gives the line an “I told you so” edge. The punchy, percussive synths and Arthur Russell–esque delivery on “Love Is a Fire” sound like Greenspan is getting lost in his own song as it builds up around him. The clipped, robotic delivery of “Baby don’t, baby don’t, baby don’t” is followed by the warning “don’t play with me, don’t play with me, don’t play with me.” The title track reveals its emotions and words to be glitchable, like HAL’s downfall in 2001.

The album’s eerie, unsettled dynamic is what makes it such a fantastic record. Like Caribou’s Our Love and Jamie xx’s In Colour, Big Black Coat is a downer dance record -- chilly, introverted electronic music that strays far from the club. Junior Boys’ latest owns its coldness, making the construction of their sentiments clear. And what Big Black Coat proves is that such coldness can be seductive, that with just the right soundscapes, “c’mon baby” is the only invitation you need.