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For Justice, the end of the party is just the beginning

French duo Justice breaks out

Xavier de Rosnay (left) and Gaspard Augé make up the electronica band Justice.

Even the club kids who dance all night have to come down and head back outside when the sun comes up. And it’s that inevitable sense of party entropy that constituted the biggest difference between French electronic duo Justice’s most recent, second release, “Audio, Video, Disco’’, and their breakthrough debut, 2007’s “{dagger}’’ (alternatively known as “Cross’’).

Whereas that first release was all squiggly bass blasts, hyped-up disco beats, and chopped-up soul samples - “straight bangers’’ as the kids might say - meant to be wilded-out to in the dark recesses of a nightclub, the follow-up foretold a sudden halt to the party. Its abrupt 180 felt like pulling the plug on the DJ’s rig just as the party is hitting its climax, throwing open the doors and flooding the room with dreadful daylight.

As you might expect, many revelers didn’t take kindly to being bum-rushed out into the elements, and the album was met with decidedly mixed reviews.


While Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, who come to the House of Blues on Monday, still find their comfort zones in packed clubs - with heavily effected vocals and sampled instrumentation and even the occasional straight-ahead dance beat - “Audio, Video, Disco’’ draws its pulsing breath from outside in the elements, away from the dance floor. For a metaphorical setting for this musical picnic, imagine a discarded MacBook sitting in the grass on a bucolic French countryside, tendrils of ivy slowly overgrowing it. Or perhaps just glance at the album cover: a giant wooden cross laid to rest on the edge of a mountain. A not too subtle allusion to their progress forward?

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If there’s one point of critical consensus about the new record, it’s that it sounds like 1970s guitar-heavy prog-rock. Justice begs to differ.

“We never tried to do a prog record,’’ Augé explained from France over Skype recently. “To us, it’s just pop music from today. The only prog thing in this record is maybe the freedom in terms of tempo changes and key changes, but it’s still simple music in its form, and it’s never demonstrative like prog is. We try to avoid knowing too much about musical theory to keep the magic.’’

Whatever you want to call it, “Audio, Video, Disco’’ makes for a surprising change of direction from a group that, just a few years ago, was the epitome of DJ party culture’s mating with indie-scenester cool. Perhaps the coolest act on the planet on one of the coolest labels, Ed Banger Records, Justice were renowned for their disheveled rock aesthetic, raucous live sets, and casually affected air of detachment. Augé’s protestations notwithstanding, the calling cards of prog are in ample supply here - a risky move as there is famously nothing less cool than prog.

“On’nOn’’ mixes Yes-like British guitar pastoralism with male falsetto vocals, a flute solo, and rhythmic and chord changes that meander like a mule-plowed byway. “Ohio’’ is a hypnotic stretch of chillingly plucked strings looping over dense, breathy harmonies. “Brianvision’’ sounds like the 8-bit soundtrack to a tabletop arcade game about a hair metal band. Throughout, Justice sounds halfway between the nerdy, kitschy, harmonized guitar-noodling of Ratatat and the Christmas metal schlock of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. (But, you know, in a good way.)


Perhaps Justice is just ahead of its time. In 2007, the duo’s breakthrough hit “D.A.N.C.E’’ was widely embraced; and in the meantime, acts like London’s Nero have come along and exploded their formula (sped-up soul-pop sampling with overtones of a hair-metal concert) to an even grander level. Justice has never dealt in dubstep, but the aggressive rock sound they popularized on “{dagger}’’ was hugely influential in pushing the crossover of neo-rave and dance culture first into the indie realm, and then the mainstream, paving the way for the omnipresent electronic acts like Skrillex and his ilk. It could be that the next big thing in dance music is not being able to dance to it.

“The first one wasn’t a dance record either,’’ says Augé, who must not have been paying attention to the writhing bodies at any of his live shows. “But danceability has never been a concern to us. If it happens, it’s okay, but it’s not a goal. We like emotion over function.’’

Depending how free they are with altering the tempos and beefing up the bass lines in the live setting on their upcoming tour, they may just find out whether or not danceability is really a concern or not. In the meantime they simply seem content to get outside what’s expected of them and revel in the sun.

“Electronic music has often been neon, nighttime, and champagne, and we wanted this record to sound like some afternoon in a rocky landscape,’’ he says. “The cover says it all.’’

“Maybe some people didn’t get it because they were expecting something else,’’ he offers, “but we never worked on people’s expectations for us. We’re following the same track than on the first one, between epicness and melancholy. The form changed a bit but not the backbone.’’

Luke O’Neil can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @lukeoneil47.