Justice first forayed into the spotlight in 2003 with their remix of Simian’s “Never Be Alone”, later retitled and released as “We Are Your Friends.” Following this the French duo, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, were elevated rapidly to success.
Having marked themselves as on the button remixers, they produced remixes for a range of mainstream artists including Daft Punk and Fatboy Slim. Their first album, Cross, is charged with choppy fusions of electronica and rock and tracks range from bloghouse party pleasers such as “D.A.N.C.E” to rough electro energy on “Waters of Nazareth.” It’s too easy to compare Justice and Daft Punk, and while the two don’t really lie in the same bracket, Cross was certainly a solid evolution of French house and at times reminiscent of Daft Punk’s rough and ready Homework era.
However, their second studio album Audio.Video.Disco did not deliver in the same way as the first. De Rosnay described the album as “Laid back and countryside-ish.” The intention was to make an album that was “soft and violent at the same time.” That’s exactly what it was, but though, in making something nice, round and soft they lost the edge to their sound which was so exciting in the first place. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with the evolution of an artist’s sound; it’s necessary to stay fresh and find new avenues of expression. In the case of Justice however, to set yourself up to be trailblazers only to steer more toward the middle of the road feels a bit like one step forward two steps back.
Justice have always enjoyed playing the provocateurs: in 2008 they were requested and rejected to make a mix for FabricLive 37. The mix was rejected as it was, “too short and musically incompatible with the Fabric spirit.” Justice however told a different tale, “They weren’t ready for something like this.” De Rosnay disagreed. You can find the leaked mix online, titled ‘Justice Xmas Mix.’ Their penchant for drama hasn’t faded either, when describing their new and third studio album Woman saying “if every song was something that could be played during the entrance at a boxing championship, that would be great.”
Given all of the above I went into the album with mild apprehension and high expectations. Having only listened to the single “Safe and Sound” beforehand, I also went in with some hope that Woman would redeem past disappointment. The first track on the album, it opens with a twisting synth swaddled in psychedelia accompanied by a haunting harmony, then interrupted by a pronounced clicking of fingers – and the lights come on. Bass slapping grooves, rippling synths and violin melodies; this is the perfect marriage of Justice’s eclectic styles. Jagged electronica with a new groove.
The expansive soundscapes of Audio.Video.Disco haven’t gone away either, “Pleasure” echoes the soft textures heard in the sophomore album but builds on them with razor like electric guitar riffs and captivating synth melodies. A fresh take on the last album’s sound but it had me taking a step back and wondering had I spoken a bit too soon.
Possibly my favourite track on the album, “Stop” had me doing just that. A slow starting number with soulful vocals, that are slightly reflective of the album itself. Heavy synths, a lovely filtered cowbell and the same blazing guitar riffs, Justice have lovingly layered this track with an innocent optimism I haven’t heard them capture before. The entire album harkens back to the synth wave of the 80s and what better way to emphasize the core theme of love? The likes of New Order and Spandau Ballet associated the synth with romance and Justice have clearly approached Woman with the same mindset, with success.
It’s clear that the abrasive electro of Cross is still alive and well in “Chorus,” (which doesn’t actually have one.) The longest track on the album at 7 minutes, it’s proof that the abrasiveness and breakneck pace of the first album haven’t disappeared. Feeling as though it would be best suited to the build-up in an extra-terrestrial showdown, the ethereal electronica and otherworldly falsetto here sound as though it’s directly descended from the Mars Attacks! soundtrack. In spite of having the most grit on the album, “Chorus” still maintains the romantic theme of the album overall; the out the gates weight to the track is consolidated toward the end as the touch gradually gets softer and softer.
More rough edges and dramatic tones in “Heavy Metal” are tinged with Italo disco styles. It has all the lovable stop-start drama you could ask for. With an acidic touch and a breakbeat high hat, the choppy rhythm and steady rise in tempo make for edge of the seat anticipation, which culminates in a heavy hitting plateau, before seceding and gently falling back down to earth.
Justice have approached Woman with a fresh mindset. A broad variety of sounds old and new are mixed well and they have matured with a newfound refreshing optimism. While at some points the album was slightly too soft to electrify, it is awash with Justice’s trademark excitable rhythm conjoined to newly arrived romance. While it may not be absolutely everything desired, Woman is certainly a big step in the right direction and brings a bright warmth for a perfect escape on these cold winter evenings.
The album can be purchased on 2LP & CD here.