JUSTICE

(Ed Banger)

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DIGITALISM

Idealism

(Kitsuné Music)

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With their unstoppable singles, massive media exposure, and bizarre penchant for Christian iconography, it's tempting to tag Parisian electro bombers Justice with silly blasphemies like "saviors of electronic music" or "techno messiahs." Such hyperbole would certainly be in keeping with their inheritance of Daft Punk's mantle—you may recall that French duo, whose manager Busy P runs Ed Banger records, were meant to have killed rock 'n' roll in the mid-'90s.

Like Daft Punk, Justice—the duo of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay—blast electro, house, techno, and funk out of rock 'n' roll amps set to 11. But where Daft Punk's "French touch" was occasionally light, Justice's is relentlessly heavy.

begins with cheaply sampled film-score bombast on "Genesis" before obliterating the orchestration with filter tweaks, punchy beats, and monolithic riffs. This is standard procedure for Justice: Take a spooky, cinematic sample, drop a beat, and digitally destroy shit—on "Phantom" parts 1 and 2, Justice grab and smash Italo horror band Goblin's "Tenebre (Main Theme)"; on aptly named nerve-racker "Stress," the band twitch and tweak Mussorgsky's "A Night on the Bare Mountain" (not to mention Devo's "Jocko Homo"); and on previously released tracks "Waters of Nazareth" and "Let There Be Light," the duo donate and decimate their own Dario Argento–ready organs.

Diversions from this reliable formula yield wildly mixed results: On the one hand is the album's standout single, the fun, funky, Jackson 5–jacking sing-along "D.A.N.C.E." On the other, there's the requisite Uffie guest spot, "The Party," which finds the would-be Ed Banger ingenue cementing her utter lack of rhythm or wit over Discovery-style horns and the hook from Three 6 Mafia's "Stay Fly," with flow-impaired couplets like "Rockin' high-tops and sayin' no to stilettos/'cause I might get drunk off my ass and I don't wanna fall." (Read as exasperated sigh): Uff. The rest of the album ranges from the freaked-out vocal funk of "DVNO" to the slightly chewed bubblegum pop instrumental "Valentine" to the swinging, radio-scanning glitch of "New Jack" to the distorted '80s TV theme "One Minute to Midnight" (possible alternate title: "Jan Hammer Time").

In all the critical frenzy over Justice's debut full-length, it's easy to overlook their electro-rock contemporaries Digitalism. The duo, Jens Moelle and Ismail Tuefekci, are based out of Berlin, but they record for Parisian boutique label Kitsuné, and their heavy electro and rock flourishes evince more love for the au courant disto-disco of Ed Banger than for the cool, controlled techno of their native metropolis. The duo work with a similar mix of rock and electro signifiers—squealing synths; wet, gurgling filters; crisp, digital drum machines as well as overdriven "rock" drums; live guitars and bass. Despite the same basic ingredients, Digitalism cook up a slightly different soufflé.

Both bands apply rock instruments and production techniques to electronic forms—Justice overload their distorted and compressed drum breaks with heavy-metal riffs; Digitalism add live bass and guitars to electro-house epics. Previously released club hits "Zdarlight" and "Jupiter Room" appear on Idealism in all their stomping, ascendant glory, mixing the aforementioned live guitars against distorted glissandos, bit-crushed vocals, and jittery synth arpeggios.

But Digitalism occasionally do the opposite, employing techno synths and crisp digital drum machines to score what are essentially traditional pop songs, or just trying to blur the lines between pop and electronica. Justice's rock appropriations run one way, rock into electro, but Digitalism seem to want it both ways, rock transformed into electro and vice versa, although their rock-infused techno consistently beats their attempts at electronic pop. And in doing so, they resemble no one so much as the omnivorous DJ/producer/band hydra that is Soulwax.

"I want I want" wants to be a Rapture song with its lip-curling vocal sneers, hand claps, and guitars. The guitars on "Pogo," though, mixed under the usual whooshing vacuum synths and sharp drum programming, wouldn't sound out of place in a New Order song, and its vocals could've been lifted from a Franz Ferdinand outtake. "Apollo-Gize" is twee yet schmaltzy laptop pop. Banger "Digitalism in Cairo" is built around a reedit of the Cure's "Fire in Cairo."

There are some insubstantial tracks here, filler perhaps: "Moonlight" is a kind of reprise/dub of "Zdarlight"; "Departure from Cairo" and "Jupiter Approach" are quick outros and intros, respectively; and "Home Zone" is a quick one-liner jab, an evil-sounding synth zinged with the silly über-raver boast "I have the biggest party ever at home." Given Digitalism's rampant Francophilia, I'm not sure I'd take that too seriously. ERIC GRANDY

BUMPS

Bumps

(Stones Throw)

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Bumps are John McEntire, John Herndon, and Dan Bitney, three Chicago musicians best known for their membership in the instrumental rock band Tortoise. Their self-titled side project is being released on the eminently progressive label Stones Throw. With that kind of pedigree, Bumps should attract fans that normally wouldn't buy an all-percussion album, let alone a record filled with dozens of short, snappy drum breaks.

Remember how people who haven't listened to an instrumental hiphop album in years adored J Dilla's Donuts, as his tragic death drew an uncharacteristically large audience for the record? Bumps may hold similar novelty appeal, albeit under less heartbreaking circumstances.

In essence, Bumps consists of 23 drum arrangements spanning 31 minutes, with the three musicians creating different types of rhythms throughout. "Craven" is a funk lick underpinned by bass drums, while "Deal Tree" is all rims and tight skins. "Swingland Hit" evokes early-'80s disco-funk like Tackhead, and "Can You See?" conjures a massive big beat perfect for dub. Extraneous effects and instruments occasionally creep in: With its thick drum-machine punch, "Sniper Growl" could be the background for an Egyptian Lover single.

Thanks to the names attached to Bumps, some people may attach more importance to it than it's worth. At its best, this record is a lark, a nice collection of breaks to tide you over until the next Tortoise opus. MOSI REEVES

Tortoise play Neumo's Tues June 26, 8 pm, $15 adv, 21+. See also preview, page 76.

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THE ALIENS

Astronomy for Dogs

(Astralwerks)

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In the mid to late '90s, rumors began surfacing about a collective of aural alchemists operating within bunkers burrowed beneath Edinburgh, Scotland. Much like the Lone Gunmen from The X-Files, another fringe collective of the '90s, these sonic scientists were "countercultural patriots." They called themselves the Beta Band, but after the 1998 declassification of The Three EPs, it became clear they were more nebbish-friendly alpha males of a folky, digi-flecked freakbeat, and their experiments were explorations of magnetism.

From 1998 to 2004 the Beta Band tweaked a giant centrifuge of whirling beats and chirping voice, working constantly to balance the dynamic and the subtle before splintering under excesses. Now emerge the Aliens, featuring core Beta Banders Robin Jones and John Maclean reunited with pre-EPs contributor Gordon Anderson, aka Lone Pigeon (somewhat of a Syd Barrett/Roky Erickson figure having undergone psychosis treatments). The result is an album that exists in a wrinkly, wonky wormhole betwixt bleary references to yesteryear and tomorrow.

The crepuscule kaleidoscope has been an inspiration to many since the late '90s, the Chemical Brothers most notable in recent memory, so opening track "The Setting Sun" jibes with the embodiment of disassociation. The Aliens, however, are more baggy funk than oblique buffet—like the Isley Brothers' "Who's That Lady?" shot out the barrel of the Beatles' Revolver, then clipping the Kinks and Can, with even a waft of the Doobies (pun intended).

Further into the album, the Aliens manage to make like Roy Orbison backed by Procol Harum, or Clapton with Primal Scream. The lyrics, meanwhile, explore an appropriate current of alienation, often from the fairer sex. The album doesn't always achieve the giddy, transcendental gravitational pull of prime Beta Band, though it does honor that group's unraveling hymns. TONY WARE

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