New Justice album creative but underwhelming

Eli Watson

Electronic music is often the underdog.

Many see it as unoriginal or stagnant considering that most of it derives from computerized bits and samples from artists that range from rock, hip-hop and techno. It is challenging to find an electronic group that seamlessly combines the electronic formula (busy synths, kicking bass drum and distorted vocals) with a refreshing approach. This is the case with Justice’s latest album, Audio, Video, Disco.

Audio, Video, Disco does not conform to the dubstep direction that has recently taken over dance music. Rather, it nostalgically looks back at dance godfathers Daft Punk and present-day dance punkers MSTRKRFT and Death From Above 1979 to create an album that has one goal — to keep things funky and simple.

Opener “Horsepower” foreshadows just how lively the album is with its menacing, fuzzy synths and dance club drums. The intro begins like Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” with its eerie bass drops, followed by arena rock synth guitar in the bridge that produces an impeccable harmony between the old and new school.

“Canon” and its video game synths reverberate all over the place, appearing and disappearing rapidly among hi-hat cymbals and distorted bass. “On’n’on” sounds like the result of a jam session between Aerosmith and Daft Punk: Guest vocalist Morgan Phalen does his best Steven Tyler impression over ’70s rock drums and throbbing bass. “Parade” could easily replace the Death Star theme song with its blistering, spacey bass, “We Will Rock You” foot stomps and hand claps and laser-like synths.

Unfortunately, this album’s simpleness is also its downfall. Justice’s debut album Cross was great because each song kept the momentum up and there was an underlying sexiness and swagger to each track. Audio, Video, Disco does not have that. You can pick and choose the good from the bad, and after “Parade,” the album becomes extremely repetitive. It begins to rely on the same disco rock formula and if you are not paying attention, you would assume you have been listening to one continuous song the whole time. If Justice is going to stick to this road and expect results, they need to structure their songs like Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock.” Keep the synths and drums the focal point and the heavy rock guitars at a minimum.

Justice’s return does not satisfy in the ways of its predecessor. Four years in the making, Audio, Video, Disco is creative in its approach, but it moves too far away from what made Justice one of a handful of bright flickers of hope for electronic music. The album has great ideas, but when those ideas are regurgitated for each song, you will find yourself looking for refuge in the more familiar arms of Cross.

Printed on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 as: Justice adds twist to old formula