Toronto quartet Azari & III's self-titled debut album has the feeling of a record you've already lived with a long time—one perhaps you went digging for a few days ago only to realize you never actually owned it. Not, perhaps, foremost because of the band's elegant sonic homage to late '80s and early '90s Chicago house, but due more to the ubiquity of mammoth singles "Hungry for the Power" and "Reckless (With Your Love)." The two were mix and set staples of hedonistic summer oh-nine, and the latter has already earned enough stereo churn to qualify as a kind of modern classic of retro-fixation.
For this debut album on Tiga's Turbo Recordings, those of you who feel kind of burned out on the band's recent omnipresence will be pleased to find new gems snuggled within what is, for the most part, a loose-legged and savvy appraisal of the last 20 to 25 years of house and electronic templates. Theirs is, in whole, more than a mirror act, a sterile if energetic reflection of the music they grew up with in sweat and ecstatic after-hours. Recent single and album closer "Manic" may be every bit the equal of the Azari & III jams that made the album's multiple delays so frustrating. Over squiggly strobe synths, a night-dizzy vocal moan, and jerky bass bursts, the band cuts an anthemic slice of Prince-like funk that far too many have tried failed to reproduce; it's stranded somewhere between the hyper-sexed strut of Minneapolis in the '80s and so much of the dead-end zombie house of this year. It's both nagging in its familiarity and pleasantly tailored to '11.
Elsewhere, though, the band tries its hand at a series of variations on the sounds for which they've made their name. "Tunnel Vision" acts like deep-of-the-night acid house, with its electric fence breaks, before its short piano vamps let in a little light, while "Indigo" and the neon-technoid "Infiniti" ride a locomotive shimmy through Detroit's concrete, empty-shelled urban dissolution. The arpeggiated moan of the excellent "Change of Heart" dissolves into an almost Balearic bit of floating bass and pads before retreating into the ether again, and "Manhooker" is lost and distant, an oil smear of bleak aggressive techno despite its sensuous vocal cooing. (For those thinking the band was perhaps a one-trick pony, it's only the throwback "Lost in Time" that too closely approximates the swoony diva house we'd come to expect from them.)
Azari & III will probably be criticized for its inclusion of tracks that already feel kind of too embedded in the dance music consciousness to really touch us anymore. Maybe some will see it as another needlessly close-to-the-bone re-encounter with house's history in an onslaught of the same. But it takes little scrubbing at that revivalist surface to hear how much novelty Azari & III have to offer here on old sounds and places. Those of you disappointed in similar efforts this year by Hercules & Love Affair or, say, Jessica 6 will find many of their itches scratched here.
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Tracklist: Azari & III - Azari & III 01. Into the Night
02. Reckless (With Your Love)
03. Tunnel Vision
05. Lost In Time
07. Change of Heart
10. Hungry for Power