Saturday, 7 January 2012

Justice - Audio, Video, Disco


Four years can be quite a hefty duration between studio albums, given the average wait for a new release is usually within the 2 to 2-and-a-half year gap. And apart from their live album from their North American tour of Cross in 2008, and the handful of remixes here and there, french duo Justice - Gaspard Auge & Xavier de Rosnay - have, up until this point, been less active than the other electro-house pioneers still going. Justice, however, had until now remained in a hush about any development in what would become their follow-up, the abtly named 'Audio, Video, Disco'.

Considering the amount of hype - and indeed, acclaim - their debut, Cross, received pre and post-release - some even comparing them to the height and success of fellow countrymen, Daft Punk - it's no surprise that fans have been counting the unbeknownst amount of days down to hearing this record. And so too they will compare both acts after this 46-minute record passes their ears. The stats look almost surreal in their equality: they took four years to record their follow-up...like Daft Punk. In it, they take a different approach in their musical context which will no doubt surprise hard-core fans of their debut...like Daft Punk. And the results in the end are no doubt unanimously, even universally agreed upon, as a work of genius to be enjoyed...like Daft P-...ah.

Ridiculous as it seems, one can't help but feel that maybe the self-generated hype surrounding this has in effect clouded any vision of a realistic outcome. And more specifically, the dreaded Second Album Syndrome that a lot of bands tend to suffer from. And it's here, unfortunately, that Justice have found themselves succumbing to. True, their genuine conceptual motifs behind this album - the band stating they were aiming for something more lighter and not as aggressive, citing 70s rock music as an influence behind the album's sound - are as strong as they can be, but it's hard to find anything beyond a sort of passionate favouritism that really invigorates AVD as Cross did with flying colours.

The first track 'Horsepower', a more rough and chirpier introduction than Cross' 'Genesis', is a high-volume mixed bag that feels almost unfairly condensed down. Though the main section of the song is a thoroughly enjoyable thrust of guitar riffs, shakey drum beats and murmuring bass-lines, it's slightly disappointing that the band use a full sixty seconds of its three-and-a-half minute length to build it up in an octave-like fashion; another again at its climax for it to wind back down. The intro/outro, here, is little more than a rising of alarm-like wails and claustrophobic drum hits that feel almost forced upon...and in places, less thought-out. The actual 'middle' part clocks in at a shade under two minutes and fortunately maintains Justice's signature heavy-sounding electro-house rhythm.

'Civilization', as if inverting on our current experience does the exact opposite in regards to structure and the priorities the band have laid down in its production. The lead-up, as if rummaging through layers of foil and metal shavings, grinds out a fuzz of electronics as a hopping of drums leads us into a somewhat minimal - somewhat lifeless, somewhat lazy - verse, vocals provided to us by guest Ali Love's multi-tracked harmony. The chorus section fortunately picks itself up, returning once more into a fuzz that instead is highlighted with picked keys and Love's uplifting rhymes: "the beating of a million drums/the fire of a million guns/the martyr of a million suns".

It's not until 'Canon', AVD's surprisingly more darker and grittier forth track, that we finally catch a glimpse of the duo's fore-fronted attention to what catches a listener's ears...and indeed, what could be deemed nostalgic in reminiscence of a first listen-through of their debut. The track is nothing overly fancy or miraculous in its production, but the duo's clever use of fine-tuned synths and manipulated drum sounds help to keep it flowing full of energy and listenability.

It's a shame then that later vocal-centred track 'On'n'On' tends to drop this well-worked composite, favoring to highlight guest Morgan Phalen's now hollow-tuned voice as the main component. The instrumental part itself falls short of exciting or anything remotely capable of bringing about some D.A.N.C.ing. There are occasional signs of promise between vocals when the song kicks up a gear as if ready to break onto the dance floor. Disappointing then that it remains sounding some added-on extra to bridge verses.

'Brianvision' however, is the first (thankful) success-story of Justice's guitar-rocking orientation on the electro-house channel. Comprising solely of a rumbling drum pattern - playing behind a stretch of held-on guitar riffs - it's easy to insinuate that, by now, the band have not just treaded into troubled waters, but seem to have lost all means of being taken seriously. Guitars, sounding like something off a Led Zeppelin or AC/DC demo tape, however, are surprisingly affective and catchy on the ears. But it's when the latter half of the track explodes, in all its riffed energy, into a full-blown rock'n'roll-esque beat that it demonstrates how well this matured sound can develop, behind the drive of such electrifying house beats.

'Newlands' continues this revival of good fortune - surprisingly well, in fact - in Phalen's second contribution of vocals in 'Newlands'. Leaning more towards traditional rock music structure of verse to chorus to verse and so forth, what rock lacks in lasting appeal and energy in today's umbrella of genre prefixes, Justice keep Mahlen's delicate voice backed by a catchy sting of synthesizerselectro-charged nature.

Closer, the self-titled 'Audio, Video, Disco' like penultimate beat-heavy rocker 'Helix' on reflection, feels somewhat shorter on the mark than their earlier track counterparts. The latter instrumental composition, though finely-tuned with a heavy dose of drum hits and long-winded synths, barely demonstrates any sign of development or intrigue, relegated to nothing more than the unwanted tag of "seen it, done it, move on". The former track, in close familiarity, falls even shorter, vocalized repetition of its title drowning somewhat in a confounded jumble of rustling drums and crawling bass leads - structure and progression almost non-existant as if from a lack of idea...or worse, lack of enthusiasm.

It's quite fitting, in a somewhat deflated manner, that the self-titled track sums up the obvious flaw and resulting catalyst to this album's non-existent difficulty in being shrugged off and filed under that which falls short of both delivery and execution. And where other records may get this waving away of the hand unfairly because of its established fan-base, Audio, Video, Disco unfortunately holds too many causes for concern production-wise. There's no doubting the duo's enthusiasm and interest in fueling their heavy-hitting rhythms with a little rock influence here and there, but where they've introduced new sounds, there's a strong suggestion here that they've forgotten altogether that a song must appeal from its start...all the way to its end. Audio, Video, Disco then, is stitched horrendously with patched filler and desperado shots of holding on to what's been declared. Like a town-crier, it hopes to be heard; hopes to be understood, but is left reeling with a sore, heavily fuzzed voice that bears less intrigue and lesser satisfactory interest.
~Jordan


5.4

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