If done right, electronic dance music can be aggressive and enjoyable at the same time. Hell, listen to it long enough in a packed nightclub and all of that sweat, booze, and workday stress will snap with one simple track. One group who knows how to pinpoint those moments is Justice.
The French electronic music duo used a plethora of samples and their talent of aggressive musical collision rather than synthesis to capture the music world’s attention with their 2007 debut Cross. Instead of a streamlined flowing sound, Justice wanted to make dance music for headbangers with colossal beats, slapping bass lines, and musical jabs that hit so hard that neither Pacquiao nor Mayweather could stand. The group gained a solid following and seemingly wanted to capitalize on it, with their sophomore effort Audio, Video, Disco going for a sound closer to ’80s arena/prog rock. Not a bad step by any means, but something that felt like expansion for the group in the wrong direction, expanding their reach instead of adding more to their punch. But it seems that Justice merely meant to kick down the door with Cross, since it sounds like all the want to be are pop stars.
Evidence of that need is all over Woman, the duo’s third studio outing and first in five years. Ten tracks in a touch over 54 minutes, the album feels surprisingly brisk despite being their longest studio output to date. No song is under the 4-minute mark, yet the listener can tell where the song is going to halfway through. The bass lines slap and whirl with flourishes of electric guitars and hi-hat drums. Some songs have the dance beat of disco and 80s funk, but the length and especially the focus on organs and synthesizers call back to prog rock. It’s an odd mixture, but there are highlights. Album opener and first single “Safe and Sound” is a bright and delightful throwback to orchestrally-backed disco. “Alakazam!” combines bright synthesizers and a rolling baseline with the duo overwhelming dark organs for a dark dance number, while “Fire” brings it all back to the disco roller rinks. Justice bring their mite back with gloriously bombastic tracks like “Chorus” and “Heavy Metal.” They close out the album with a double dose of slow-burning ambient tracks “Love S.O.S.,” and “Close Call.”
At times, Woman can feel like soundtrack filler for a Nicolas Winding Refn movie more than an album experience. The middle section of the album is the slower section, both due to the mellow nature of the songs and the lengths going too long. “Chorus” and second single “Randy” go over the 6-minute mark and don’t expand beyond the mess of overbearing drums and synths of the former or the future club funk of the latter. “Heavy Metal” sounds like a lost cut from Daft Punk’s oppressive misfire Human After All with its gothic organs and pumping drum beats. Woman feels like a mishmash of Justice wanting to evolve as artists and wanting to still be what got them to the dance in the first place. There surely must be a way Justice can meet their audience and their ambition in the middle, but Woman may have needed a track or two more to help the two versions of the album gel together.
Woman‘s album cover is very fitting to describe Justice at the moment, with all of their beautiful mojo spilling out onto themselves trying to figure out what they want to do with their future. There’s no denying that Justice’s sound is uniquely their own and near-impossible to duplicate, so they remain one of electronic music’s finest acts. Perhaps this transitional phase suits the duo as they try to figure out what they can and can’t do. For now, Justice will need to keep building momentum and turn the music industry more on its head next time around.