The recent wave of retro dance-punk bands has shown a halfhearted commitment to the "dance" part of the musical equation, with little of the true innovation practiced by musicians who've spent their lives experimenting with beats and electronics. Canadian techno-pop duo Junior Boys sounds superficially like one of those nostalgia acts—it channels Depeche Mode, Heaven 17, and New Order—but its debut, Last Exit, doesn't have the distractingly kitschy trappings of the recent "electro-clash" movement, let alone the dilettantish air of dance-punk. Instead, Junior Boys makes hushed, blippy dance music with a contemporary sensibility, as though Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark had been continuously recording since 1980.
The 10 tracks on Last Exit—some by original members Jeremy Greenspan and Johnny Dark, and some by Greenspan with Dark's replacement, Matt Didemus—operate in the shadowy area between avant-garde and commercial, where a lot of the best electronica acts dwell. Greenspan sings in a high, seductive whisper, but he often matches his cadence and tone to the synthesizer's melody line, rendering his words almost incomprehensible. And though Junior Boys frequently employs jaunty house-music piano, the band is equally addicted to scrambled rhythms that keep listeners from latching onto a steady groove. Songs like the evocatively skittish "Bellona" and the delicately pretty "Birthday" have familiar streaks, but the programming changes so rapidly that the snippets of conventional pop grammar seem like mere building blocks to a higher form of communication.