Lazuli have come from nowhere to become one of my very favourite current bands, based initially on their performance at last year’s Summer’s End Festival. They were just stunning and put on one of the most effortless and absorbing performances I’ve ever seen. Based on that I’ve picked up most of the albums but although I enjoy them hugely, particularly 2009’s Réponse Incongrue à l’Inéluctable and 2011’s (4603 Battements), the band have not yet been able to translate their stunning live sound successfully to record.
So what of Tant Que L’Herbe Est Grasse? Well, in many ways it’s a huge step forward although possibly still lacking a slight…something. Maybe not as immediate as some of their previous works but a very rewarding album that reveals itself over a number of listens.
But first a little history. The band have been around in one form or another for a decade and a half now and Tant… is their sixth studio release. Their career to date can be considered in two halves, the first encompassing albums one to four, the second taking in the last two. These two periods can be seperated by the kind of split that in most other cases would prove terminal – half the band, all founding members, left. Initially a quintet they became a sextet in 2007 with the addition of guitarist Gédéric Byar, the band featuring Champman Stick, marimba and Warr guitar. After the split they regrouped as a quintet of voice, guitar, keys, drums/percussion (still utilizing the marimba plus occasional French Horn) and Léode, a unique instrument invented by Claude Leonetti after losing the use of his left arm in a motorcycle crash which rendered him unable to continue playing guitar. The Léode adds much to Lazuli’s music, adding a new dimension and sound that colours the music without leading it. Ethnic rhythms, electronica and industrial repetitiveness are integrated into a particularly melodic sound led by the stunning high register vocals of Dominique Leonetti. In the current line-up, perhaps surprisingly, the bass is absent, its place being filled in by keyboardist Romain Thorel. Romain plays his keys with a percussionists outlook and rhythm is an important factor as can be strikingly seen during their live performances. Romain also helps out on drums allowing drummer Vincent Barnavol to move to the marimba where required. Lastly there are the stunning, industrial edged guitar flashes of Gédéric Byar.
Sung entirely in French, the songs of Lazuli have an exotic quality, the shifts of rhythm leading the way most of the time, one of the reasons they are particularly successful as a live band. The music can have a muscular edge but they are just as adept at the gentle, more fragile numbers and these guys certainly know what they are about.
There are a number of highlights on this album that has grown in stature after listening to it over the last couple of weeks and is now without doubt my favourite Lazuli recording.
Things start off with the atmospheric yet thumping Déraille, showing off to good effect a lot of what is impressive in Lazuli’s arsenal. The smouldering chorus takes in elements of world music and low-level industial sounds explode into the chorus which gives vocalist Dominique Léonetti the opportunity to utilise his effortless high-end range. This is lovely, all of the band pulling together, the Léode sliding in and out of view, particularly at the start where it really sets the tone. There really is lots going on here.
Une Pente Qu’on Dévale continues things in great style. Much lower-key and driven on lovely electric piano, Dominique is again inspired and the chorus melody is just great. The drums are particularly impressive as is the Léode as the track builds to a climax, its unusual tones fitting in well as it swimming in and out of the music.
Homo Sapiens builds from a steady intro and bursts into an up-tempo chorus but it is possibly a little too ordinary, although Dominique lifts it suitably, but it is followed by Prisonnière d’une Cellule Mâle, one of my favourites here; the simple rhythm based on a figure of paired tom-toms from Barnavol just gets to me. Domi’s acoustic is insistent with the dreamy presence of the Léode sliding around in the background. The production throughout the album is superb, really capturing the depth of the music with a clarity that is refreshing. The laid-back groove thumps and underlines how well Lazuli use rhythm and ethnic musics in their own. There is a primal feel to Lazuli’s music that you just can’t resist – they are the only band I can think of that can get a prog crowd of 40-50 somethings dancing!
A complete change for Tristes Moitiés with the most delicate of tracks predominantly built around twinkling piano and Dominique’s emotive vocals. Keys provide a sweep of orchestral strings with Léode adding its unique voice here and there. Beautifully rendered. L’essence des Odyssées starts out with interlocking rhythms and an Eastern vibe, Dominique utilising the slightly muffled vocal technique that is a Lazuli trademark. There is a brooding, smouldering quality to this one that launches into a soaring chorus, the vocals clear as a bell, Claude showing what the Léode can do.
Multicolère is reminiscent of earlier Lazuli tracks like Abîme, the quiet vocals – sinister and atmospheric – punctuated by bursts of high energy heaviness driven by Byar during which the rhythmic elements of the music come to the fore. There is also a hint of The Beatles the mix making for a varied tour de force. Like all of their other albums the songs are short, punchy and cover a lot of ground which ensures that they maintain their interest. The band work as a unit for the benefit of the songs and there is no need to rely on individual dexterity, the music as a whole being the most important thing.
The beginning of J’ai Trouvé ta Faille features a tentative acoustic guitar, piano and vocal section, marimba adding spice, opening out into a Léode flavoured slow-burn that keeps things reined in sufficiently as the tension rises. The whole thing sounds stylistically like something that Fish might come up with so it is fitting that the man himself appears in the second half to add his distinctive vocals in English. This could be a misstep but it works very well in adding an additional dimension to the piece, Fish sounding very comfortable in this setting with the band adding backing vocals, and I’d certainly be interested to hear further collaborations between him and Lazuli.
Les Courants Ascendants is a fine way to end, very much in the style of earlier Lazuli “epics”. There are quiet bits, thumping rhythmic passages and elements verging on metal, Dominique’s wonderful vocals at the heart of the maelstrom. All of the disparate parts come together particularly well with the album topped off with an extended Léode solo from Claude.
Overall Lazuli have developed a great deal with this album and furthered their sound into a sophisticated yet edgy amalgam of exotic rhythms and catchy melodies. The performances are thoroughly excellent throughout and great care has been taken to ensure that the album sounds as good as it can. They are really onto something with their unique vision coupled with the requisite enthusiasm and passion. Add the awesome wonder that is their live shows and you have a band at the top of it’s game. In November of this year they are taking to the road in the U.K. for a series of double-header shows with the wonderful Moon Safari – I urge you not to miss these, irrespective of whether you’ve heard the albums or not. Lazuli completely won me over within minutes of first hearing them.
A truly inspirational band that are reaping the rewards for their individuality.
01. Déraille (4:36)
02. Une Pente Qu’on Dévale (5:11)
03. Homo Sapiens (3:55)
04. Prisonnière d’Une Cellule Mâle (4:56)
05. Tristes Moitiés (3:20)
06. L’Essence Des Odyssées (4:34)
07. Multicolère (3:30)
08. J’ai Trouvé Ta Faille (6:21)
09. Les Courants Ascendants (6:07)
Total Time 42:31
Dominique Leonetti – Guitar, Mandolin & Vocals
Claude Leonetti – Léode & Backing Vocals
Gédéric Byar – Guitar
Romain Thorel – Keys, French Horn & Backing Vocals
Vincent Barnavol – Drums, Percussion & Backing Vocals
Fish – Vocals (track 8)
Record Label: Independent
Year Of Release: 2014
Main Website: Lazuli