Laurent Garnier is hardly a stranger to media laurels, critics and scenesters alike pronouncing him a pioneer and a visionary. When the Gallic Garnier moved to English shores in the mid-1980s he became a godfather of Acid House as a resident at Manchester’s famed Hacienda. Then returning to France, he became the perfect bridge for the acceptance of French house and techno abroad, as Garnier so carefully fused Parisian influences with those of Detroit, Chicago, New York and Manchester. It was with great surprise that his second LP, 1996’s 30, turned out to be a rather banal affair. Where 1995’s Shot in the Dark was an innovative delight, 30 was a predictable mesh of techno, house and dub by rote. Thankfully, Garnier has returned with Unreasonable Behaviour his most rigorous and highly-nuanced work to date.
Unreasonable Behaviour is far from an easy listen. While Garnier is usually highly accessible, here he deviates in favor of a record much more tempestuous, menacing and genre-pushing—all of which, though foreboding, is wholly more gratifying. The cramped, dank, two-minute introduction, “The Warning”, fulfills its task telling the listener that what’s to follow is sure to challenge. “City Sphere” is sparse and gloomy, capturing the essence of the future industrial city’s alleys with its jazzy percussion and a bleeping, catchy pulse that resists easy categorization. “Forgotten Thoughts” offers an intensely intellectual listen, carrying just the right drum fills and a dusky underside that ranks with Plastikman’s best in genre crossing, daring electronica.
“The Sound of the Big Babou” is Unreasonable Behaviour‘s coup de théâtre. A vicious swipe of sound descends into pounding four-four house, then winding its way outward as electronic strings resurface and fade giving way to a frenetic, anxiety inducing buzz. Almost eight minutes of attacking, infinitely complex music—hitting you when you think you can duck and allowing for rest just as you expect the death blows. Garnier transitions into a new phase of the record with the fuzzy, feedback laced “Cycles d’Oppositions” which keeps a tantalizingly ill-fitting ambient stroke underneath the clatter. “The Man With the Red Face” is a close second to “Babou” in quality; jazz-fusion punctuated by an unrelenting, blaring (though deviously situated in the mix at greatly reduced volume) sax solo marries staccato synth and pulsing beats for a most welcome but unholy Detroit-influenced trinity. “Greed (part 1 + 2)” is a seedy, epic, break-filled examination of Internet culture which shifts gears so frequently that it is an almost arrogant display of Garnier’s talents. After that mind-bending ride, “Dangerous Drive”, the most predictable Garnier track, follows. Lurching, pounding techno provides the pattern on this straightforward yet suggestive floor-filler.
Garnier’s Unreasonable Behaviour is such a diverse amalgamation of electronic styles that through the disunity nothing seems out of place. Whereas 30, and even Shot in the Dark to a lesser extent, fell into formulaic patches at times, Unreasonable Behaviour always keeps the listener guessing. The fact that you can’t let your guard down for an instant, or listen without distraction because of the caustic stylistic shifts amounts to a record even more consummated than it is ambitious.