"Safe and Sound", "Randy", and Justice's subtle course-correction

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Despite spending the better part of the past decade dropping colossal cross-genre dance tracks that permeate top 40 playlists and deep-cut compilations in equal measure, French electronic duo Justice seem disinterested in standing on ceremony of any kind. This seems counterintuitive. It also seems to be the most critical factor in their formula.

When thinking back to the release-proper of Cross and Audio, Video, Disco, Justice’s previous LPs, it’s easy to identify the handful of songs that define the duo on paper—namely, Cross’s “D.A.N.C.E.”, and “DVNO”, and AVD’s “Civilization”, and “On’n’On”. Sonically, these four tracks have almost nothing in common, save for a handful of production techniques almost unique to Justice. But relative to the duo’s entire catalog, these four tracks share one truly fascinating commonality: They’re all the most polarizing tracks on their respective LPs. That’s probably because they most apparently incorporate the cross-pollination of destructive bass-driven dance music with arena-level prog rock.

This is not to presume they are the only tracks to take this route. On the contrary, this is a common theme throughout the entire portfolio—one that has become synonymous with the Justice name itself. But there’s a grittiness—like the guttural rumble of an empty stomach—that coats the chassis of each song and almost overpowers the errant highs and flutter-by synths. At first listen, this is not humble-minded music. Certain moments—the opening 10 seconds from “Civilization”, for example—seem tailor-made to incite lavish chest-beating and proud proclamations of intent.

But “seem,” rather obviously at this point, is a more fluid concept to Justice. No matter which songs have come to represent the duo at first glance, and no matter what kind of disposition those songs tend to convey, there’s more to the formula. The duo knows this. They’ve known this the whole time.

“Safe and Sound” and “Randy”, the newest additions to Justice’s catalog, do a couple things on the upfront. For starters, they herald the arrival of a new Justice LP, which is good news for audiences and critics who have only just begun asking about it. But also, and probably most importantly, it pre-empts a full-length record with (not-so) newfound chill. Absent are the grand-scale melodic executions and overbearing bass salvos that classified Justice as the hard-hitting electro-prog perpetrators of old. What we get here are walking slap-bass structures and four-on-the-floor nu-disco promenades reminiscent of early Chic.

“Randy”, meanwhile, is as far removed from the more recognizable Justice equation as we’ve heard yet. No abstractions whatsoever; “Randy” is a feel-good dance track featuring almost-overloaded drum fills, a purely falsetto-performed vocal track and plenty of dips, curves and soft edges to give the entire song an extravagant-water-slide motif. Nearing the break on the full-length version (highly preferred to the Radio Edit, natch), Justice juxtaposes submersible bass bars with gorgeous gossamer strings in a way never before witnessed.

Late last week, my editor and I began discussing the bigger picture regarding these two songs. What does this mean for the new Justice album? How will they translate in full-length format? Is this a risk? My editor seems to think “Randy” and “Safe and Sound” indicate a move in the vein of M83’s Junk; a calculated maneuver in a quirkier direction so as to dismantle whatever perceived notion audiences have of the band in general. I tend to agree. Neither of us mean to imply Justice are undergoing an identity crisis (which was a very real feeling I had about M83 and Junk), but I do think they are choosing to illuminate a route within the framework of their music that to this point has gone relatively unnoticed. There’s heart to this stuff, and there’s jubilance. Are they counter to the public opinion? Probably. But they also explain why Justice has refused to rest laurels on the most identifiable aspects of their music: There’s simply more to it than that. If “Safe and Sound” and “Randy” even slightly indicate Justice’s direction from here on out, we’re in for something big.