Lazare is strongest when it sounds like, well, Lazare.
As soon as the second full-length album from Principles of Geometry swings into one direction, a subsequent entry finds itself in a different neighborhood, but it still feels like a familiar place. Lazare follows 2005's similarly crafted self-titled debut from this French duo, with keyboard-framed electronic music that has changed only somewhat in the three years since their last one. It's not for a lack of trying; Guillaume Grosso and Jeremy Duval head up Principles of Geometry, but they invited a few guest vocalists for the Lazare sessions, which is not something explored on the first record.
However, with but a modest selection of specific directions in which these guys saunter, Lazare is limited: although nothing here is as close to Boards of Canada as "Black Barn" was on Principles of Geometry's debut, they’re still in love with hazy webs of analogue synthesizers and rapid-fire, Autechre-styled click beats. The most successful outings on Lazare find the musicians leaving their affinity for Warp Records in the driveway after they've backed out into the street.
Grosso and Duval’s attempts at setting themselves apart from keyboard-swabbed outings like M83’s Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lose Ghosts, Boom Bip’s Sacchrilege EP, or Ochre’s Lemodie include rattling their rhythms a bit and adding on an outside vocalist or two. On Lazare’s “Napoleon”, ever-eloquently flogging Brooklyn emcee Vast Aire stands knee-deep in what sounds like a grainy '70s era sci-fi film, nearing battle scene-climax time. It’s a weird place to call from, even for Vast, whose stature in hip-hop circles owes mostly to a timelessly atmospheric, independent outing from his dormant outfit Cannibal Ox. Amid all these glassy Korg sonics, it’s evident that Vast Aire’s harder impact in 2008 will be forged on the noteworthy Mighty Joseph debut, not with Principles of Geometry.
Spliced-in samples seem more recurrent on Lazare than they were on the debut. Like the imaginary vigilante TV show that its name suggests, “Interstate Highway System” sounds like a splintered slab of the kitsch that scored chases in CHiPs. The mammoth-reverb-Phil Collins-stamped studio drum roll clips are pinned against melodramatic hammering keys on ”Interstate”, and fierce cuts from the samples to the main melody come off like something French house producer SebAstian would blend into his sets. “Prophet” sticks out like a sore thumb, with aggressive, fuzzbox-jagged synth lines, not unlike those manufactured by Justice or even Boys Noize (maybe the track was named after the monstrous late '70s Sequential Circuits keyboard that bore the “Prophet” moniker?). When they don’t sound like Ed Banger’s well-documented cast or their contemporaries in Eastern Europe (compare also the cleverly tagged "Letom Redrum" to the club punk on Digitalism's debut), Principles of Geometry’s tranquil pieces soothe like a cool washcloth.
“Akeshore” is numbingly serene -- a swirling loop dips back and forth into the minor key, while short, new pieces are evenly introduced overtop its base. Far off in the background, a classic rock choral sample rests against a beat that edges its way forward with each glitzy, sunny note. These flourishes and the faint police radio tapes that hardly upset “Debra"’s still waters almost bury the comparisons that Lazare frequently conjures. And by the time the album is adjourned with a rich, cinema-sized "Messiah", I wanted to return to the complex tracks that made me think only of Principles of Geometry, but there’s only a handful of those here.