Peter Bjorn and John, or MGMT, or MIA. It puts your name up in lights, sure, but it also serves to define you as an artist, given that almost everyone who has heard that popular song of yours has only heard that popular song of yours. Whatever you do from here on out will be viewed in light of that single Four-minute clip of audio, which, of course, can make an artist feel like their hands are tied creatively. It's a dilemma that the likes of Florence and the Machine, Foster the People, and The Black Keys will soon face, and One that French electronica duo Justice will finally face this Tuesday, when a slew of music fans will grab their new disc, Audio, Video, Disco, searching eagerly for the next DANCE.
If there was One thing that we learned from the Spring-time release of the album's first single Civilization, it was that Justice had no intention of ceasing to be Justice. Loud and aggressive while somehow maintaining brightness, the song carves out large spaces for slow-motion, auto-tune-dreched verses, but their lethargy give the pounding, multi-colored chorus its real power. And though the song's chorus is hugely familiar to anyone who heard the band's 2007 debut, it's the vocals, drums and guitar of the verses that foretell the more interesting, more damning desire of Audio, Video, Disco; It kind of wants to be a rock album, and Justice just isn't really a rock band.
This new-found focus on penning lyrics tied to traditional song structures is not without its successes: On'n'On leads with a sparser, more appealing version of Civilization before popping into a jubilant bounce. But Newlands, on the other hand, simply sounds too far out of reach, asking listeners to lend an ear to mediocre rock when they asked for great dance music. But even when the band looks back to their roots, the results are mixed. You can almost hear Horesepower, Canon, and Helix all blow a fuse under the weight of their desire to be badass dance-rock songs, all accomplishing their goal to varied degrees, but the intentionality of the thing drains some of the life out of the songs. The only track on Audio, Video, Disco that truly works from front to back is Ohio, another number that relies on mechanized vocals, this time layering them to warped and ear-catching effect, all before unleashing into One of the smoothest dance tunes of the whole year. The song is nearly impossible to sit still through, its night-life vibe and lack of desire to blow out speakers defining it against an album that often slips into the background. I have to imagine that Audio, Video, Disco plays a whole lot better when listened to as intended: At a club, or party, or anywhere the volume could be cranked up to absurd volumes. As music to listen to on one's own, it's a mixed bag.