Justice – † & Digitalism – Idealism

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  • Two tiring but legitimate strings of Daft Punk comparisons. Two over-hyped and long-awaited first albums. Two hotter-and-cooler-than-thou Parisian imprints. Two technology-savvy duos as at ease remixing hopeful indie dance luminaries (Simian and Franz Ferdinand on one side, Cut Copy and Klaxons on the other) as bright pop starlets (Britney Spears and Lisa, er, Stansfield) while standing at the forefront of the current rock’n’rave collision. In both cases, it seems both Justice and Digitalism, propelled by a bunch of powerful and memorable semi-overground hits (‘Waters of Nazareth’ and ‘D.A.N.C.E.’; ‘Zdarlight’ and ‘Jupiter Room’), can do no wrong at the moment. They both took massive and active part in the formation of our current sonic zeitgeist, and it really feels the year – and our hearts – should be all theirs. Or should it? Although there is nothing technically wrong with both albums, and although you and I have been and will be listening to them to death this summer, and even though it will be hard to deny them the 2007 landmark status they obviously deserve, both ‘†’ and ‘Idealism’ are somewhat failing at being, aesthetically speaking, perfectly right. Mostly, it feels Justice and Digitalism are arriving too late at the party they decided to throw, still trying to come to terms with the forthright craft they have unleashed and the Daft Punk parity everyone is expecting them to meet. Truth be told, what made their shared distorted visions and irreverent attitudes remotely original three years ago has gotten so generously distilled since then (notably through their incessant yet stellar remixes) that their scorching and abrasive noises now appear to be merely, at best, variations on a theme, at worst, self-parodic. But if you’ve known and enjoyed both bands so far, there is nothing on these two albums that will make you know or enjoy them more since neither of them are bringing anything untried to their respective sonic equation; and although they remain in a league of their own on the current maximalist Franco-German dance scene, there lies their fatal flaw. As you probably know already, Justice’s Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé come, professionally speaking, from the design field, and it doesn’t only show through their elaborate visual imagery: ‘†’ is both, in terms of textures and moods, evocative and appealing, caressing on the eyes as much as it is brutal on the ears. The prime disco-tinged ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ (and its album’s cousin ‘DVNO’, affectedly sung by newcomer DVNO) remains one of the most perfectly formed pop singles in recent memory, catchy children-sung and Jacko-loving chorus and all, while the aforementioned ‘Waters of Nazareth’ and newbie ‘Stress’ both evoke apocalyptical nightmares in which acerbic Moog synths and distortion pedals are falling from the skies. This is a sonic niche that they share with fellow Ed Banger producer SebastiAn: both are copiously influenced by both ‘The Brainwasher’-type heavily filtered noises and stuttering effects à la Mr Oizo, and while it is impressive, it is getting a bit crowded in there. Otherwise, snappy samples are showcased all over the place next to their much talked-about Uffie collaboration, ‘Tthhee Ppaarrttyy’, an infectious song that is exactly what you’d expect from the Justice boys if they wore make-up and a mini skirt and went to a sweet sixteen party. The entire thing is immensely coherent, mind you, and each track morphs into the next one with lubricated ease, but in the end, this well-oiled machinery lacks that necessary thrill of the unforeseen a pop album so universally awaited should essentially have. Unfortunately, it is ‘Idealism’ and Digitalism that are suffering most from this maximalist repetitious self-dispersal. For example, it seems Jens Moelle and Ismail Tuefekci, the Hamburg-based producers so proficient at embracing their French house gurus they even outpunked Daft Punk’s own ‘Technologic’, liked their own ‘Zdarlight’ so much (a song, you’ll remember, embraced by everyone from Tiga to Erol that even found its way in Darren Emerson & Sharam Jey-sponsored sets) that they re-recorded it with added guitars and distortion as ‘I Want I Want’: back to back right at the beginning of the album, these two cloned cuts are neutralizing each other’s effects and are thus rendered quite redundant and unnecessary. Then you’ll find their infamous ‘Digitalism in Cairo’ and current single ‘Pogo’: one is sounding like another attempt at remixing a raspy indie anthem (which it is) while the other feels, despite its catchy and highly melodic chorus and its song-based immediateness, like a half-baked and fading-out-too-fast Presets number (with whom they are sharing writing credits, actually). New track ‘Homozone’, on the other hand, is just happy aping Justice and making you wonder where Digitalism’s own sense of self does lie exactly. Luckily, ‘Jupiter Room’ is there, a track still so brutal and federative and just so massive Germany should use it as its new national anthem if it ever decides to initiate World War III: it is Digitalism at their digital best. Thankfully, there is stuff on here meeting the standards set by this track, such as album opener ‘Magnets’ or the pulsating ‘The Pulse’. Elsewhere, sadly, new ideas are sparse, as if Digitalism and the listener’s conception of what they should sound like never really met. Maybe they said it all on ‘Skip to the End’, who knows… In the end, then, turns out the aforementioned tiring but legitimate series of Daft Punk comparisons were accurate all along: while Justice (and their Ed Banger fellows) are beating around the sinister and misanthropic ‘Human After All’ steep sonic bushes, Digitalism (and most of the Kitsuné cohort) are closer in spirit to the lighter, celebratory and populist side of ‘Discovery’. But on these two introductory albums, neither of them is approaching the raw seminal year-zero fervor ‘Homework’ spawned a decade ago. That said, I personally find the Daft-Punk-as-the-Godfathers-of-anything-electro discourses especially wearying, and I was secretly hoping two of my recent favorite producing teams (if it wasn’t clear enough yet: I actually love both Justice and Digitalism) would shed some much-welcome light on a narrative too fascinated by its French Touch idols and turn our 2007 dance floors around. But it’s obviously one minute to midnight: time to pogo home.
  • Tracklist
      Justice -† 1 Genesis 2 Let There Be Light 3 D.A.N.C.E. 4 New Jack 5 Phantom 6 Phantom pt. II 7 Valentine 8 The Party 9 DVNO 10 Stress 11 Waters of Nazareth 12 One Minute to Midnight Digitalism - Idealism 1. Magnets 2. Zdarlight 3. I Want I Want 4. Idealistic 5. Digitalism in Cairo 6. Departure From Cairo 7. Pogo 8. Moonlight 9. Anything New 10. The Pulse 11. Home Zone 12. Apollo-Gize Final Mix 13. Jupiter Approach 14. Jupiter Room 15. Echoes