Woman — the new third album from French electronic duo Justice — is frustrating; rather like the rest of their records. The stellar album cover sets up for the right vibe when going in — it’s spacey and sleek, a colorful advancement ahead of their prior two albums — and it’s cool to finally hear something that seems it was made post-Daft Punk’s R.A.M. However, the color that is added to their tunes here doesn’t feel particularly colorful, especially when coupled with some of the album’s other faults.
Album opener “Safe and Sound” was the best of the few tracks released pre-album, and intrigued for what it signaled as an opener. When a guitar that sounds “Robot Rock’d” finally enters at ~3:11, it mimics the track’s bassline — it’s gnarly and carries the song through to its finish — along with an epic chorus chant and some stellar synth riffing before the final minute of the song.
On second track “Pleasure”, the band keeps repeating “Use imagination / as a destination”, and you reeeally wish they would! For a song with that as its title, it never gets to amount to much — nothing builds to any satisfaction. Two tracks away, we’re treated to “Fire”, my least favorite on the album. It combines the never-quite-hooking, disappointing feeling of the next-worst song, “Pleasure”, but it’s also two-and-a-half minutes longer than it needs to be (though the video version is shorter/better). That’s my most fervent gripe with the album: almost every single track feels twice as long as it should be.
When “Alakazam!” fades out ~3:02, you expect it the album to finish there, but there are two more minutes of samey music to go in this song, yet. In “Fire”, a reverbed guitar helps the song fade out. It’s a cool vibe and texture that barely gets used on any other track when perhaps it should be.
“Stop” is one of the album’s best songs; it’s simple, pounding, and connects to one’s heartbeat. The chorus falls flat of sexy, but the verses are smooth enough to keep the track good overall. Next is “Chorus”, the album’s longest-running song. Its opening pinging keeps your attention through an impressive electronic workout in the first two minutes that pumps the heart of this album, “Steam Machine”-style. Sadly, though, those middle two-and-some minutes that begin with background vocals lose the listener and go through a relatively weak struggle to get you back with a little guitar. That same pinging returns and thankfully lulls us back in, and we find ourselves starting to finally feel almost blown away near the ~5:25 mark.
“Randy” is a good song; the melodic hook is paired perfectly with the booming, reverberating bass hits a synth groove, and the chorus vocal is gushy and fun. The hardest (but still slick) electro moment on the record so far, “Randy” is pretty gnarly. When the strings enter afterward, though, it feels like Justice is trying too hard
“Heavy Metal” reminded me of Castlevania games; its feature of a splendid, crying JRPG-type synth is hugely appreciated (reminding me of the faux-video game soundtrack Socotra Island by Amun Dragoon). The only element providing melodic interest in “Love S.O.S.” is that siren that wails throughout. The album finishes off nicely with “Close Call”, a gorgeous synthesizer showcase featuring a plucked steel guitar that connects with the bittersweet, painfully nostalgic vibes from recent Internet releases (again, harkening Amun Dragoon soundfonts). That level-above-us synth entering sounds like the slow ascent back up to the stars in your space ship after a life-changing mission on another planet.
The refreshing and bright moments that impress on Woman seem equally matched by moments that sound run-of-the-mill and/or unrestrained. By this I also mean that moments of this record sound both better and worse than anything they’ve done before, and it’s for this reason that Woman is actually surprisingly difficult to rank in their brief discography. At first, I was inclined to say it’s their best, made evident by the fact that it has no tracks as annoying as “Dvno”or as excruciatingly overlong as “Planisphere”. Yet, this new album doesn’t have the young, serrated sonic power as heard in Cross, nor does it have Audio, Video, Disco‘s relatively much stronger melodies and (particularly guitar-showcased) instrumental prowess (though this may be replaced on the new album by the increased use of choruses and strings).
Woman does provide Justice’s most human sound to date, if you will. That sound is made particularly clear by including more singing and lyrics than they’ve been known to do. Despite so many tracks feeling substantially longer than called for, Justice presents new ideas and a sound fuller here, which I hope is a positive sign for the group going forward.