Release Date: Aug 1, 2011
Record label: !K7
AZARI & III play Sound Academy tonight (Thursday, November 1). See listing. Rating: NNNN Most of the world has been dancing its ass off to Toronto house music band Azari & III's self-titled debut for well over a year, but it's only now getting a full official release in their hometown. In dance music circles, a year might as well be a lifetime, but Azari & III's sound is less about chasing contemporary club trends than it is about summing up the last 30 years of underground dance music, so the album still sounds fresh.
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.
Despite sounding like a Mayan despot and his grandson, [b]Azari & III[/b] are actually a Toronto-based house music four-piece: two producers, Dinamo Azari and Alixander III, joined by the demonic-sounding Fritz and thoroughly angelic Cedric on vocals. The undeniable success of their debut album stems from a fearless and energising take on the usually unfuckwithable canonical peaks of classic house music. This genre contains in its DNA the knowledge that a life spent chasing ecstatic pleasure comes at a cost and, while obviously uplifting, it is shot through with an undercurrent of either dread or melancholy.
A natural impulse when considering a record like Azari & III's solo debut might be to explain it as the sum of its influences, the individual 1990s club tracks that filled dancefloors in New York, New Jersey, and Chicago, the Steve Silk Hurley and Todd Terry remixes that launched a thousand hips. But Azari & III's music fits in with a contemporary context more readily: They are pastiche artists. Like Hercules and Love Affair, Azari & III have become an album act who are occasional dancefloor producers, incorporating signifiers of a certain era-- in this case, late-1980s and early-90s house and rave music-- and tying them together with a distinctive production aesthetic and saleable personalities.
There’s a sense of familiarity surrounding the release of this debut album from Toronto-based quartet Azari & III. (That would be Dinamo Azari and his posse of III: Alixander III, Fritz Helder and Starving Yet Full.) First of all, there’s that cover art of a female hand clutching a phallic skyscraper. If you’re a fan of bad rock music, you’ll know that image is a direct swipe of the cover art from the Velvet Underground’s disregarded album Squeeze, released in 1973.
If you’re of the opinion that there’s not enough high camp in synth-pop these days, then an introduction to Azari & III is overdue. This Toronto-based four piece are partial to using words like “fierce” in interviews, as well as claiming club culture’s post-rave decline is due to a lack of transvestites on the scene. They also do a stonking line in house-tinged singles, so it’s only fair that Island Records have picked up their self-titled debut album for a proper UK release this month.
Much of Azari & III's debut album concerns itself with the pleasures and costs of hedonistic excess, so it's fitting that the thing itself feels untrammelled to the point of superfluity. With 11 tracks running to just over an hour, there is simply too much music here, or at least, not enough variety in their startlingly nostalgic house sound. A crisp edit would usefully emphasise their greatest asset, namely Cedric Gasaida's honeyed falsetto vocals: they're enticingly seductive on Into the Night, while Reckless (With Your Love) gives the delicious impression that he spent some fruitful time in his youth pretending to be Grace Jones.
An intelligent, decadent debut from the Toronto neo-house quartet Luke Turner 2011 House music has undergone a terrific splintering since its inception. These various mutations, though, often satisfy only their committed following, and the form has lost both some of its joyous universality on one hand, and class on the other. Step forward Azari & III, a Toronto-based quartet of two machines-men (Dinamo Azari and Alixander III) and two vocalists (Fritz Helder and Cedric), who unwrap and hoover up the finest elements of the form in this imperious debut.
In a modernised paean to nascent 80s house, Azari & III channel Toronto's nightly bacchanal into a platter of powerhouse cuts, as skyward and colossal as the 100-storey steel cock, er skyscraper, gracing the album's cover. You could have an eye out with the Canadians' street-tough debut; a glittering rendition of an era where promiscuity was political and on the right set of male buttocks even a pair of sequinned hot-pants was a Caligulan act of rebellion. So illicit-sounding is Azari & III that to even listen is to be an accessory to the crime.