For those who have followed along since 2004's Last Exit or the Polaris Prize-nominated So This Is Goodbye, Junior Boys haven't sounded this strong in nearly a decade. The duo revitalized their austere synth pop, rendering it warm to the touch and looking beyond its traditional sound palette. Some songs may dazzle more intensely than others ("And It's Forever"), some may have more lasting value ("Over It"), but, like the best of their kind, they all catch the eye when they first appear.
Of course, the power lies in Didemus and Greenspan's knack for effusive melody and acute dance floor know-how, a potent combination that remarkably never becomes formulaic. A searing lead ends the slow-burning, psychedelic ballad "C'Mon Baby," flipping on a dime to "Baby Give Up On It"'s sensitive boogie-funk, before the vintage Chicago-isms of "M & P" set up "No One's Business" for a synthy mid-album sigh. Even at 50 minutes long, Big Black Coat has creative energy to spare by the time it's through.
It's hard to find flaws in an album this rich and satisfying without coming off as nit-picky. One song feels needless, however: the cover of Bobby Caldwell's 1978 hit "What You Won't Do For Love." With its two-octave bassline and dispassionate vocal, the previously released track sounds regressive and rudimentary, like a beefed-up echo of So This Is Goodbye's superior Frank Sinatra cover. It sets the tone for Big Black Coat's largely 4/4-oriented back half, but even that section's standouts—"And It's Forever" and "Love Is A Fire," which make fierce use of techno ideas—could've done the trick with more charisma and tenacity.
When speaking to RA about his work with Jessy Lanza, Greenspan explained, "A lot of the tracks were born out of me turning quite experimental song fragments and production ideas into something that sort of resembles pop songs." Since Big Black Coat was inspired by years spent on such external projects, there seems to have been a similar process here. Its success didn't come down to how different Junior Boys can sound, but how natural they can sound despite the quirks. Greenspan's versatile falsetto is the key to it all. His tenderness turns confessional when singing lines like, "Baby baby, hope is for the middle of the night / But hope is fading with the first of them who saw daylight." A gracious honesty feeds his basest expressions and charming clichés, too. That candid affability and late-night wisdom has always been, and still remains, the essence of Junior Boys. It makes Big Black Coat feel like business as usual for Greenspan and Didemus, even as it does more with their wealth of experience than ever before.