Justice - † - Review
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critics' view

It's a decade since Daft Punk's extraordinary album Homework opened the floodgates for a cross-Channel invasion and rearranged the face of dance music.

These days, we're dancing to the beat of another Gallic boy duo. Parisian noise renegades Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Auge made their mark with the maddening, pitched-up reworking of indie band Simian's 'Never Be Alone'. But it was the rasping, brutally phased analogue buzz of 2005's 'Waters of Nazareth' that truly excited people. It showcased a sound so seismic that it induced nausea if you pranced too close to the club speaker stacks. 'Nazareth"s evil textures resonated around clubland and lit the touch paper for a score of electro-disco radicals, among them Simian Mobile Disco, formed from the cinders of Simian.

It helps that Gaspard and Xavier exude a particularly insouciant brand of French cool. While DJing, Xavier routinely smokes entire fags without once lifting them from his lips, and the pair play live in front of a stack of Marshall amps. Moreover, they maintain that they're bedroom auteurs; graphic designers who simply stumbled upon their art and 'do music without really knowing how to do it'.

This guileless approach is captured in †'s quixotic alchemy. It's composed of equal parts Seventies funk, the cheesy wing of filter disco, acid house's distorted beats and hip hop's battering rhythms. Somehow, however, it is thrillingly transgressive, its darkly funky basslines evoking George Clinton booty-shaking at a Depeche Mode gig.

There is innovation and potential commercial appeal here, then, but you can't help but wonder whether they've pushed the sonic envelope too far to cross over. For starters, take the distinctly unpronounceable title. Despite the tongue-in-cheek 'Christian/Club' genre label on their MySpace site, and the biblical song titles, the allusion is aesthetic. It lends an aura of gravitas, for sure, but it takes a foolhardy pop act to casually co-opt such potent imagery.

Furthermore, Justice wound up clubland's cognoscenti by saying that their debut would be 'definitely music for girls and music for driving cars'. In the event, † is not entirely devoid of gossamer touches.

There is nothing as guzzlingly addictive as 'Never Be Alone', but their plucky experimentation offers up a number of dancefloor treats. 'D.A.N.C.E', notably, is a one-of-a-kind. Summoning the gospel joyousness of Baby's Gang's 'Happy Song' - an early Eighties Italo disco number - it is one of the few tunes to feature a trilling children's singalong and still maintain a semblance of cool. 'DVNO', a robotic jam featuring Parisian's Scenario Rock, offers a futuristic take on the high-spirited MOR of Hall and Oates. And while there are moments of muzaky electronica that you'll no doubt skip - 'Valentine' and 'The Party' are presumably included to lend light and shade but merely fall flat - it's the doom-laden power chords of album opener 'Genesis', which stomps its way across the discotheque like Godzilla, that sets the tone for the best tracks. 'Let There Be Light', 'Stress' and 'Phantom' are wordless tunes punctuated by burping sub-bass and finished with a cerebral Euro synth veneer.

'Stress', in fact, may be the most claustrophobic club pounder you've ever encountered. Its piercing, incessant strings are married to a shuffling beat; think Psycho's Norman Bates doing the moonwalk. The two-part 'Phantom', meanwhile, has elegant strings that are brilliantly at odds with a build-up and drop which leaves you beaming with malevolent glee. And despite its familiarity, 'Waters of Nazareth' still wages a war of attrition on your eardrums.

At its core, † is loud, restless, and daring. A creative tour de force, Justice have unleashed an era-defining album for the children of acid house. Never mind Daft Punk, here's disco punk.

Download: 'Stress'; 'Genesis'

Sarah Boden
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