There’s an internal struggle within those of us dedicated to seeing the light in house music. The beats and builds are easy to justify – that’s just hedonistic pop – but that pastiche is only made pastiche-er when you’re quantifying bargain-bin lines like “I need you, I want you tonight /I feel you don’t put up a fight.” Those words tumble out of the mouth of Starving Yet Full (I’m at least assuming that’s a stage name) a few minutes into Azari & III’s debut self-titled LP. That doesn’t hit Cut Copy levels of Katy Perry-isms but its close; brash, ineloquent, stupidly all-encompassing – all the usual complaints apply.
To be clear; house isn’t known for its vocabulary and the Azari project certainly wasn’t incepted for the lyric geeks. The Canadian quartet specialize in the simple pleasures of electronic music; pulsing, mid-tempo grooves, intricate synthesizer dialogues, earthquake percussion – when Full does fold his voice in, it’s for purely sonic reasons, to stack up another hook on an impressive repertoire. This is not an album of club smashes, but it is consistent in its dependable fun – amounting to a very steadfast swathe of dancefloor inversions.
Those blinding singles Reckless (With Your Love) and Hungry For the Power gleam just as bright here, slotted at number 2 and 10 respectively. Considering their placement, they tend to bookend a record of lesser material, (that almost laboratory-precise chemistry is a scarce feat and hardly replicable) but Azari & III come closer than you might initially think. The liquid-sheen of the band’s most disco-inflicted moments isn’t really a fare representation – these guys are interested in dance music’s most nocturnal textures. Like the monolithic bass-synth rumble that opens Manhooker, or the deep wobble and head-spinning atmospherics to Infinity. The spirit of these songs try to draw you in, but the structures keep you on the uncool outside. It’s a pretty distinct balance, something that gives Azari a distant sense of seductive hierarchy – almost like you want to impress them, they like the thought of having better record collections than you.
You get the sense that these guys have done their homework; esoteric, localized scenes, from Detroit Techno, to Chicago House, to cross-pollinated late-‘80s disco all flare up here. There’s dashes of Balearic, microhouse, even New York industrial-dance – for a quartet located in a place like Toronto, they’re true students of the genre and all its permutations. It doesn’t necessarily make Azari & III sound ambitious, but it does come together like a true passion project. Something with investment, something fussed-over, something edited, and something desperately flaunting for attention. For some its weighty confidence might be a turn-off – they do seem to believe in their time-worn substantiality more than its worth – but the hour they’ve given us is to the brim with insider references, diversified taste, and rock-solid hooks. They’re making music for people who love dance music, which makes them part of their own audience. If you fit the demographic, you’ll feel right at home.