Azari & III – Azari & III review

The hype around Toronto house outfit Azari & III has been steadily building a head of steam since two thrilling singles in appeared in 2009. In “Hungry For The Power” and “Reckless (With Your Love)”, the Canadian production duo of Alixander III and Dinamo Azari set their stall out as retro-futurists with one eye on the past and another on the present.

While there was little particularly fashionable about the impressive “Hungry For The Power” – a faintly threatening, bittersweet concoction that offered a bleak, almost dark take on early Inner City – “Reckless (With Your Love)” seemed to capture the zeitgeist perfectly. With its prominent pianos, sharp synth strings, turn-of-the-nineties house groove and sad-but-happy vocal, it was the sort of cultured escapism that had been sorely lacking in a house scene that was still suffering a prolonged hangover from the minimal techno era.

Given these credentials, which additionally seeped into an impressive amount of remixes, it’s perhaps no surprise that the hype surrounding Azari & III has remained on an upwards trajectory ever since. Listening to this long-promised self titled debut album – which sees numbers swell to a four piece with the addition of two enigmatic frontmen – it’s fair to report the hype and anticipation is well judged. For starters, Azari & III is unfussy, uncomplicated and unconcerned with high-minded concepts. While occasionally lyrically heartfelt and never less than sincere, this is an album concerned primarily with having a good time. Judged on this single criterion, it is nothing less than a triumph: this is good, old fashioned good time music for those who like their house heady and intoxicating.

That’s not to say it’s throwaway, though. It is impeccably produced and offers a zeitgeist-capturing take on house – the kind of knowing, contemporary revision of the late 80s/early 90s heyday of house and techno from Chicago, Detroit and New York – that should have serious longevity. Without wanting to sound too pompous, it sounds like a classic house album – and those are a rarity. The songs, in particular, are infectious. Their big dancefloor hits are joined by new, equally impressive forays into vocal territory; the tribal throb of “Lost In Time”, the half-whispered intensity of “Manhooker”, the claustrophobic new wave freak-out that is “Undecided” and the Kevin Saunderson-meets-Prince strut of “Manic”.

Then there are the forays into straight-up instrumental dancefloor territory, which invariably raise comparisons with such innovators as Virgo Four, Larry Heard and DJ Pierre – albeit blended with the sort of infectious piano riffs that used to be the preserve of David Morales (before he vanished into the pop-house ether) or Ten City (check the brilliant dark/light fusion that is “Indigo”). Yet for all these comparisons, Azari & III are no imitators – for all the classic house reference points (as well as nods to Italo disco, German electro and new wave pop), they have a fresh, floor-friendly sound all of their own.

Matt Anniss