Justice crosses over to indie dance on ‘Woman’
Adrian Mark Lore | Tuesday, November 29, 2016
It has been about ten years since the French electro-house outfit Justice made its bombastic entrance into the vanguard of electronic dance music with the release of their debut LP, “Cross,” in 2007. That record was cathartic, invigorating, explosive, trashy and often just plain bad — yet in an excellent, arguably ground-breaking way. By pumping girth into their beats and bass and then running it all through amps more fit for black metal, the irreverent duo managed to pioneer a new way of conceiving dance music and accord it mainstream and critical notice while nonetheless angering many members of the genre’s core constituency.
When tracking the duo’s output over the past decade, it should become clear that, at heart, Justice is purely a hard rock outfit under the palatable guise of disco. Their affinity for stadium-sized production and thick bass guitar is one of the few constants among the many variables of their transforming aesthetic. Fail to recognize that, and you could be misled to believe that the signature Justice sound is unrecognizable on the duo’s third and latest record, “Woman.”
That, of course, would be the folly of music critics, not of the duo itself; in fact, “Woman” represents not a misguided foray into new aesthetic territory, but a well-executed musical reinvention and refinement of craft. Indeed, on each new record, Justice has sought to explore a new facet of rock-infused dance. On “Cross,” Justice was at its most aggressive and most subversive, complementing their sound with a penchant for gold, leather and studded fashion. Their sophomore LP, “Audio, Video, Disco,” opted for greater sophistication than its predecessor, yet its exploration of progressive rock — a genre that works through slow-building subtlety — was categorically at odds with the duo’s skillset, and was not always well-executed as a result.
“Woman” is closer to the latter album than to the former, and is easily the most seamlessly hi-fi of the duo’s records. The few teeth that remained on “AVD” from the early years of Justice are entirely absent now, for better or worse. In most cases, they have been replaced with chromatic frills. Songs like “Safe and Sound” and “Fire” are sleek and unburdened by the bloated noise and overdrive of their early aesthetic, emphasizing glamour rather than punk. The duo’s new, more careful approach to production is not necessarily better, just different. At the very least, it is better suited to the genre of feel-good disco that Justice has lately opted for, and as a result is a testament to the duo’s self-awareness and versatility.
That said, “Woman” arguably marks the end of Justice as an outsider pioneer of electro-house. If “Genesis” or “Newjack,” two of the most stellar tracks on “Cross,” blew your mind — or your speakers — it is because they were unlike anything that dance music had produced before; they were leagues more complex than the most over-produced Skrillex track five years before his “brostep” was on anyone’s radar. Additionally, while most of “Cross” did not leave room for the human voice — leaving production entirely in the spotlight — appealing vocals drive the majority of “Woman,” and even its instrumental cuts sound rather traditional.
At best, “Woman” delivers a different, more carefree kind of enjoyment, but at worst it is doomed to uncanny familiarity. While “Woman” is an effective synthesis of the sounds that inspire Justice — danceable grooves, memorable melodies and arrangements that are larger than life — the record may be too tardily released. On tracks like the joyous “Pleasure” and the smooth, slow-moving “Stop,” the duo attempts to recreate the widespread appeal of electro-pop anthems like “Electric Feel” by MGMT. While these tracks sound great, their catchy breakdowns and simplistic lyricism foster a somewhat awkward, unintentional sense of nostalgia.
As a result, fans of indie dance will find much to enjoy on “Woman,” yet there is room for loyal followers of the duo as well. Certainly Justice are no longer the radical house deconstructionists that they once were, and “Woman” is likewise not revolutionary. But the record is a comfortable addition to their discography, and justifies the band’s status as one of electro-house’s immutable names.
Label: Ed Banger / Because Music
Favorite Track: “Love S.O.S.”
If you like: Daft Punk, MGMT, Kavinsky