By Dan Weiss
Voyagers is the first full length release from the slick electro duo known as Djustin, but it was also my first experience with them. And that particular choice of words I will stress from the outset: this album is an experience. It keeps true to its title, and lays out a journey of lusty, ethereal melodies over the brooding aggression of dirty synth and drums compressed so tight and so clean. It will grab you by the belt buckle and drag you down into steamy depths of some basement rave, turning on the lights after thirty minutes to reveal you are alone and yearning and wondering if it was just a dream.
From the onset the first word that came to mind was “Morodor”, as the intro track, “New Preset,” lays it on heavy. Such contrast between the grit of the bass and the slick flashes of chords, like slow purple sheets of lightning. Rose’s vocals slide in on a slipstream, ethereal and yearning. At this point, the “female dream vocal” should be reduced to a cliché in a producer’s tool box who does it “just because”. What happens here is the exact opposite; this is how you do it right. Additions to underlying rhythms and melodies add up; subtle, and always effective (eg. Light cymbal rattle on the upbeat of 4). And like a watermark on every track, it ends leaving you feeling as though it was too soon. You need more. Even the length of the songs selflessly reflect the themes of desire and wanting.
The title track “Voyagers” is one of several on the album that offer the authoritative, driving groove in such a masterful manner. Later in the track list, “Shift” offers the same kind of no nonsense beat that lays it all on the table with a glare that says “Dance or get out”. With a great chorus melody luring you through the form, the relief created by the chord change is palpable, reminiscent of James Brown’s infamous tactic of holding out on one chord for ages, then modulating to the IV chord in the bridge. (Listen to any James Brown song and you’ll immediately pick up on what I’m referring to).
Now, let’s talk about that synth, shall we? “New Preset,” “Waiting,” and “Shift” all feature this crusty synth that is so finely tuned in its scary. How do you make something both so nasty and so glossy in the mix like this? Perhaps questions like this are best forgotten, when dissecting things will only cause you to fall off of the ride. But along with the mix, smart production calls elevate the songs to a plateau above something that was churned out to fill aural space. “Waiting” has timbales thundering in the background against the unwavering synth march, freed up to place skillful fills just within earshot. “Advance 1” has what sounds like a marimba plinking away in the distance as well, creating another layer of rhythmelody that is tastefully subtle. These types of choices are all over the album–additions that are only apparent when actively searched for, but noticeable in the same way as when someone moves a few minor things around in your room. This is the sign of intelligent producers.
Johan and Rose, the electro duo known as Djustin, are just getting started. You should probably get on board before you get left in the dust on Planet Earth, swaying miserably by yourself.