Audio, Video, Disco
When Civilisation, the first single from Justice's second album, started getting airplay back in March, an already overused comparison reared its head again. Anyone in France who ventures near a drum machine is, at some point, going to find someone making reference to Daft Punk.
But for Justice, the links were far tighter, both being Parisian duos (in Justice's case it's Gaspard Augé and Xaviar de Rosnay), both releasing debut albums that blew the dance world's back doors open, brimming with raw, rock-inspired energy, meaty bass lines and dark, fizzing synth melodies. Daft Punk's Homework and Justice's Cross might not have been the same, but they both rejoiced in the edgy, unpolished studio basics in which they were created.
Civilisation, however, showed a different sound - one of multilayered production, of cleaner beats and a noise that was less likely to have your neighbour calling the police. But Justice, it seems, were only underlining their similarities with French house's golden boys. While it might have less chart appeal, Civilisation can almost be seen as Justice's attempt at One More Time, the track that heralded Daft Punk's new polished electro-house era of Discovery. Even the music video, a bizarre computer-animated affair set on a strange alien planet, had more in common with the manga-style used throughout Daft Punk's second album than Justice's previous jerky hand-cam recordings.
The full album continues where Civilisation left off, showcasing this smoother ride, while paying homage to 1970s-era progressive rock (just as Bangalter and Guy-Manuel did to great effect) and maintaining a certain pop aesthetic where their first, perhaps, did not.
Helix screams for attention, with synthesizers masquerading as double-necked guitars played at a frantically fast pace to an imaginary stadium crowd. There are still the odd hints of Justice's previous rawness, particularly in the album's title track and Horsepower. But then there are times where Justice's legions of followers are likely to recheck the album cover. Newlands, for example, begins as a blast of pure pop-rock before an intense Black Sabbath-style loop takes over.
Among the finer moments are the slower tracks. On'n'On melds a Led Zeppelin riff with rumbling drums and even a flute. On the excellent Ohio, Midnight Juggernaut's Vincent Vendetta lends his vocals, which are harmonised, Yes-style, over the top of a lounge-funk bass line that sounds more than a little influenced by Daft Punk's awesome Voyager.
Despite the softer approach (Justice have admitted that this is "daytime music"), Audio, Video, Disco is an album that succeeds in many ways. The inspired crunching basses that became synonymous with their first album have certainly been toned down - there's nothing that even approaches the aggression of, say, Waters of Nazereth. But the creative jolts that kept ears alert last time are still very much there.
Although a decade old, Daft Punk's Discovery is still widely played and tracks such as Digital Love, Aerodynamic and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, sound as fresh today as they did in 2001. There's no reason Civilisation and Helix won't be doing the same in 2021. Let's just hope when Justice start work on their third album, the boys don't turn to Daft Punk's Human After All for inspiration.
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