The cover of Junior Boys' debut a simple grey slate, empty except for a brand name, "Junior Boys," and a product name, "Last Exit" is an indication of the contents: icy and hidden, an abstraction of something already abstracted.
Synth pop is already, by some measure, faked it fools its audience by relating human emotions over the "cold" audible murmurings of lifeless machines. The power of alienation and the mysterious, otherworldly qualities of love can be described with stunning accuracy in this context. It is a music once removed from humanity by its artificial origins, having already been once removed in the process of becoming pop.
At its best, Last Exit is a stunning example of 21st-century synth-pop. The impossible skitter of the rhythms, the moribund minimalism of its melodies. When have male frailty and insecurity ever been as beautifully conveyed as in "Teach Me How to Fight?" Yet, too often, the songs fail to make an impact. They glide by on production, all tricky beats and glacial pace. Vocal melodies fail to engage. It's just so much grey space, diffuse where it should have been elusive.
Before So This Is Goodbye, Junior Boys lost Johnny Dark, the man responsible for Last Exit's beats and it was assumed sound. Some surprise, then, that Jeremy Greenspan (vocals) rebounds from such a loss and, in gaining Matt Didemus (former engineer on Last Exit), finds his sound right under his nose. Greenspan's voice is much improved, finding a depth and character absent from his former dry whisper. "The Equalizer" brings to mind Michael Jackson, Dave Gahan and a host of modern-day R&B singers without sounding forced, and his harmonies are engaged and engaging. First single "In the Morning" is a heavy-breather, but in the best sense of the word it leaves you breathless, straining for every pop hook, every rhythmic shift, every nuance. It is the voice that carries these songs, creating and guiding the melodies, cutting itself up into hooks and dancing around the rhythms.
If reaching into the future and snatching back some half-formed rhythms is any measure, Didemus is no Dark, and no one will mistake So This Is Goodbye for the sound of tomorrow. Maybe it is a certain subservience to Greenspan, but Didemus, even while thickening the sound, seems to leave more space for Greenspan to roam in. The icy qualities of Last Exit's synths are retained, but the old minimalism is certainly gone, and enough real warmth buoys these productions that songcraft actually develops. "Count Souvenirs" rides a couple of different synth-bass lines as chimey keyboards radiate a figure-eight rhythm into Depeche Mode/Air (French Band) humanity, while Greenspan sings of shopping malls and hotel lobbies as "bad hobbies that linger on," cresting into a falsetto for the only words that really matter.
The second half of the album slows considerably, almost down to Last Exit pacing, but sustains the melodic grace, if not always the poised songwriting of Goodbye's stellar opening. "Like a Child" has a fantastic bounce to its beat that nevertheless fails to maintain itself over the song's six minutes, while "Caught in a Wave" never really crawls out from its own trappings. Still, the title track is a brilliant slow-burn of cascading synths and 4/4 simplicity that could chill out the stickiest of club basements, and the album ends on a quiet double whammy of an emotional Sinatra cover ("When No One Cares") and, on closer "FM," some of Greenspan's best harmonies over an effervescent production think Beach Boys in Iceland.
In the middle of the liner notes for So This Is Goodbye, there is a page of what appears to be empty white space, without words or information of any kind. Placed in the light, it is actually a white-on-white reproduction of the album's cover. So This Is Goodbye is the sound of Junior Boys finding the colors they need to complete their music, and figuring out where the emptiness belongs.