JUSTICE — “Woman”
THE GOOD: French electronic duo Justice comes back with its third.
THE BAD: As the catalog builds, the music becomes less intense and arresting.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Back in 2007, the pair’s banging synthetic debut gave us something to groove to between highly anticipated Daft Punk releases. Since then though, the electronics have been turned down in favor of more organic elements (live instrumentation, guest vocalists, sweeping string arrangements, etc.). And while the guys put these sounds to very good use, the end results always feel too safe, contrived or even slightly disappointing.
“Woman” ends up being the duo’s modern disco album, a retro-fitted dance collection that often embraces traditional song structures. Too bad much of it resembles an evening’s “warm-up” as opposed to the pounding hedonistic climax. It’s only when the electronics and old tricks return to the forefront (as they do on the extended cinematic “Chorus” and the throbbing yet melodic “Heavy Metal”) that this set really grabs the listener.
BUY IT?: Your call.

THE XX — “I See You”
THE GOOD: British indie pop band the XX reshapes its sound on album No. 3.
THE NITTY GRITTY: There’s been a lot of progress since the release of the group’s sophomore effort “Coexist” (2012). Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim (the delicate male-female back-and-forth up front) have grown as both vocalists and songwriters. But the real breakout star is producer Jamie Smith (aka Jamie xx).
After releasing his brilliant solo effort “In Colour” (one of 2015’s finest albums), the guy now makes his layered sounds much more prominent. Samples, beats and ambient synths play a much bigger role on the new record, giving the XX a slight makeover reminiscent of Everything but the Girl’s discovery of house rhythms back in the mid ’90s.
Tracks like the brightly colored, punchy opener “Dangerous” and the moody yet funky lead single “On Hold” pull us in with emotional vocals delivered over finely crafted and varied backdrops. The end results are simply dreamy.
BUY IT?: You must.

TYCHO — “Epoch”
THE GOOD: California electronic artist Tycho (visual artist/multi-instrumentalist Scott Hansen) releases his fourth.
THE BAD: Not “bad,” just somewhat nondescript after a while.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Tycho’s music blurs genres. Electronic at its core, the work also boasts live drums and electric guitars that are just as important to the overall mix as the swirling keyboards. Tracks like “Glider” (an appropriate title indeed) and the title cut are seamless, soaring pieces boasting airtight beats, wraparound basslines and pulsating yet fragile (dare I say “soothing”) melodies.
So there are times when “Epoch” comes off as a heavier, more rock-centric take on new age or even light jazz (yeah, I went there). Not displeasing in the least bit. However, the excitement level isn’t exactly high. And after about 20 minutes, “Epoch” simply melts into the background. Some of these tracks wouldn’t sound out of place echoing through the halls of any random day spa.
Go in with the right frame of mind though, and “Epoch” can be sweetly hypnotic.
BUY IT?: Why not?