Junior Boys' 'Waiting Game' Pays Off

BY Luke PearsonPublished Oct 24, 2022

Hamilton electro-funk duo Junior Boys have carried the torch of Canadian sub-mainstream electronic music steadily, if sometimes unspectacularly, for some years now, having first made waves in 2003. Although they came up alongside fellow Canadian Caribou (known as Manitoba back then) and the similarly funky Chromeo, it was often the darkly florid work of Norwegian duo Röyksopp that the Boys resembled most. Although more skeletal and pared back — and frankly less distinctive — Junior Boys shared a similarly varied approach, flowing from substyle to substyle with ease. It's the kind of multi-genre method that can be fitfully dazzling, but can slip into a stylistic amorphousness as well, with blandly interchangeable pieces; after five albums, there was a sense that Junior Boys' template was growing a bit stale, even if the production had gotten slicker. 
Enter 2022's Waiting Game, a fairly thorough reinterpretation of the duo's sound: a gentle, almost delicate set of chilled-out, late-night R&B lullabies, full of new age flourishes and ambient soundscapes. There's nothing to dance to (in fact there's little percussion at all), so if you're a staunch fan of their previous style (and it would have been nice if they'd picked up the energy just a bit here sometimes), you may be disappointed. But if you'd grown a tad weary of their recent work even as you'd enjoyed it — 2016's Big Black Coat frankly saw them in fine form — this latest may be of special interest.
Opening with the faintest, most diminutive feedback drone ever, "Must Be All the Wrong Things" is five minutes of Boards of Canada meets jazzy new age bliss (a similar drone quivers to the fore later on to help close the album — a nice touch). Previously released single "Night Walk" follows, its breezy instrumental section still an exquisite treat, pads rising out of the mix like passing clouds. Later on, "Dum Audio" dazzles as another largely ambient track, retaining just enough pop structure to keep it from drifting too far off — a difficult balance executed skillfully here. There really are a lot of buried details and hidden grooves on Waiting Game that could easily be missed on a first listen, which for many will be spent coming to grips with the fairly drastic shift in stylistic direction. Yet the pair retain enough of their signature sound and well-honed instincts to be recognizable, and by the time the quavering, new age saxophone arrives on penultimate track "Samba on Samba," you'll hopefully be tuned in and ready to go again. 
At nine tracks, Waiting Game does feel a bit slight, especially given its largely beatless, ephemerally hovering vibe. But after two decades of sometimes cringey and often overlong wounded lover funk-outs, slight feels right here. Lyrically, Waiting Game explores the strange feelings of suspended reality and temporal stasis brought on by Covid (especially its quieter, solitary dimensions), and there's a ruminative, late-night energy to the album that fits this theme nicely. 

Not dissimilar to the sharp turn Patrick Holland recently took when he retired the jazzy house of his Project Pablo moniker to pursue upbeat bedroom pop on You're The Boss, Waiting Game is a smooth and smart shift for an outfit that was doing just fine prior but could stand to switch it up. Whether soft reset or brief respite, it's definitely Junior Boys' most tasteful and interesting album.  
(City Slang)

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