If there’s two things the French can do; it’s smoke cigarettes in an aloof manner and spawn electro/house duos like that’s just what the outcome of French sex is, and much like French sex, Justice embody both. Quite magnificently. So, here we are again, with Justice making their long awaited return.
Sure they’ve dropped remixes like cigarette butts, alongside a world tour that seemed to just go around and around, but this is what the real wait for has been since the duo (Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé) dropped their debut album back in 2007, and like Daft Punk before them (and still), they clearly don’t shy away from keeping people waiting until they’re good and ready.
Speaking of Daft Punk, let’s get them out of the way now (though they’ll be cropping up again with this album), comparisons will always be made between Justice and Daft Punk (as will any other French pairing with a penchant for Electro and House). French duo. Electro/House Producers. Dance music that the indie kids love. The release ethic of The Second Coming. The sound. Rock star quality. Future-retroist influences. Etc. Etc.
With Justice’s first album this was always a little loose, at least musically speaking, having their own unique sound, a sort of heavy metal house in amongst the electro, funk and progressive house leanings. However, with the evolution of sound from their debut to this, the sequel, Audio, Video, Disco, the duo have definitely taken a direction to the Daft, particularly Discovery era, showing in fact a similar evolution to Daft Punk from Homework to Discovery.
Now that the inevitable (and perhaps lazy, yes, I know) comparison is out of the way let’s focus on the album itself.
In the four and a half years between their first release and its follow up, the duo have clearly been taking a wider range of influences, and especially letting them seep more playfully and openly into their sound. Perhaps too, after the relentless touring schedule and party schedule, this album comes up as the cuddly come down creature comfort to the party monster of the first album.
The album coming across all at once more melodic and relaxed than the heaviness of its predecessor, which of course itself had its softer moments in tracks like the instrumental Valentine and the instrumentation on Tthhee Ppaarrttyy, here we see an expansion on these initial experiments. With this recording too, the pair saw to make this an album of real instrumentation, taking themselves out of their super producers seats and putting themselves in front of the laptop (or for this albums case a real recording studio built to their grand designs), both picking up guitars and taking vocal duties in equal measure, and you can hear it in the production and the feel of the album.
Through this more melodic and laidback (as Gaspard has himself described ‘daytime’) direction and real instrumentation, in slides a more subdued and subtle groove to proceedings, feeling less synthetic and more natural than the first, all the while less aggressive; less machine more human, sexy as opposed to frightening. Taking as lead example of this you could look at On ‘n’ On, this song is a band song, and is written accordingly, sure it’s got the rise and fall sensibilities of dance dynamics, but its structured like cool, sleek pop featuring a solid vocal right through as opposed to the usual sampled sloganeering. Showing Justice can write songs not just beats and grooves.
Following this vain on here you’ve got songs like Ohio, opening with layered vocal harmonies before the kind of instrumental backing 70s prog bands would have been putting out, had they been getting laid and not afraid to let the bass do some walking. Not forgetting some funky synth and beat work that ebb and flow through the layered harmonies throughout, getting their strut on truly by the end.
Speaking of the 70s, for a 2010s electro duo’s album, this album is swaggering around in the 70s like no one’s business, like on Discovery had Daft Punk been channelling prog and hard rock from the 70s alongside all their disco and funk influences, enhanced too by the previously mentioned use of real instrumentation. Most notably at the fore with Parade and its guitar lead work, little melodic solos and hooks, plus a genuine amp roar half way through the track feedbacking over the otherwise chilled out yet rocking atmosphere (not to mention some rampant 70s sounding synth work), followed closely by New Lands, which is all hushed falsetto vocals, synth hooks, guitar riffs, solos and beat driven struts.
Though that’s not to say that hangers on, of the heavy sound that came before this album aren’t still holding on. Album opener Horsepower acts as the perfect segue between the two albums, and is easily the heaviest thing on here. Coming on like the opening to Beat It by Michael Jackson with dissonant stringed synth chord stabs, all of a sudden comes the prog band work out, which is I’ll admit jarring at first, before feedback and a sequence let in the big bastard beats of the first album, with stabs very reminiscent of Genesis from the first album and the kind of sinister swagger that album walked around it’s funk in. Alongside leadoff single Civilization, that could be seen as a little bit of a tease before hearing the album proper, as heavy as the first album and as poppy as Daft Punk it’s the perfect single, and dance floor anthem but not a representation of the album.
The album has a telling structure of easing in the evolution, leading with its heaviest foot forward and one-two stomps of Horsepower, and Civilization slipping Ohio in as introduction alongside neo classical folk leanings of interlude Canon (primo) and then dropping the hard rocking funk of Canon, as the album then switches pace and style, dropping the heavier numbers as the more melodic, more band orientated and subtle grooves roll their way in. It makes the transition a little more comfortable than it might’ve been, but, and it’s an honestly a little disappointed but, this album’s a bit of a mixed bag, with the newer direction being a little hit and miss in my eyes.
Don’t get me wrong, there are highlights aplenty, but there’s a few that just go by and that’s about all they do. I’m not knocking the new direction because when it drops out gems like On ‘n’ On, I’m not going to complain, and in truth those newer highlights surpass the highlights that are reminiscent of the first album, because they’re not just not as hard hitting, for those moments, I’ll stick the first album, but for when they get it just right with the their next evolution, that’s what’ll bring the repeat listening. Civilization, On ‘n’ On, New Lands, Canon, Helix and the sublime album closer Audio, Video, Disco. Which is possibly the perfect amalgamation of the album and the new Justice, and perhaps what more of the album should’ve been. Encapsulating the more melodic pop (Discovery-era Daft punk) elements, the live instrumentation, maintaining the darker edge of the first album in amongst the lighter touch, the newer more open rock influences and the dance production techniques. Subdued but hard rocking, not to mention the beautiful hidden instrumental tucked away at the end, which in all honesty should not have been hidden, and easily up there as a runaway album highlight for me, it’s spectacular. Another example of how this album could’ve sounded.
So, the French can smoke cigarettes, have sex and create electro house, now they’re having a go at 70s rock, and it works, but it still needs work on. A mixed bag of some outstanding classic cuts, to be kept around and developed further with the band’s evolution, but perhaps we could’ve waited a little longer for them to finish. Though there’s no telling how long we’ll be waiting for the next one.
Justice’s new album Audio, Video, Disco is available now.