If you've followed the recent build up to Andy Butler's beleaguered fourth LP, you know this hasn't been a simple road for the DJ. Naturally, he's far better known by his project's moniker, Hercules & Love Affair, and if the tastelessly massive album header (I for one, apologize) hadn't already bleated that loudly, you might have even scratched your head at his name standing on its own. Yet, more than ever, it feels essential .
H&LA is the studio project of Andy Butler, who says his fourth album is the incarnation’s most “serious” to date. Fans might be surprised to learn an act more readily associated with glitter cannons have taken a serious turn, but tough times call for such measures.
And so Butler turns the lens in on himself. The usual feast of guest vocalists feature – Faris Badwan of The Horrors plays a wonderfully stand-offish wannabe gimp on the pulsating Controller (though he’s less good on the somewhat muffled Through Your Atmosphere), while Sharon Van Etten’s title track (which opens) sets the mood even more sombre, an intense and as emotive a track as H&LA have ever set to tape..
Since their debut with the latter-day disco classic “Blind” in 2008, there’s always been the sense that they’re making music that they would dance to, that their friends would dance to. Their records are made lovingly, with care: for and by a very specific (queer) community firstly, and then for everyone else.
Omnion isn't hugely different from the Hercules albums that came before it, but that's not really the appeal of the group: their records have always been episodic because of their guest vocalists, and Omnion feels like checking in with a group of friends, the focus shifting with each new song..
A little over five years ago, Hercules & Love Affair’s genial front man, Andy Butler, was in the grip of a drug addiction that landed him in hospital on a weekly basis. Butler’s solution was to head to Europe; he admits that he didn’t speak to his family for a year. It’s an episode Butler – now completely clean – recounts in ‘Fools Wear Crowns’, a key track on Herclues & Love Affair’s fourth album.
With its opening title track, the more vulnerable and reflective world that Andy Butler has created on this fourth Hercules & Love Affair record immediately open its doors wide. Sharon Van Etten’s vocal capturing that vulnerability quite magically, its narrative tracks a man weighed down by expectation on a quest for solace and for answers. ‘Omnion’ might not provide the answers to the world’s ills, but it delves into them with an honest readiness.
Electronic music has always been predominantly defined by the tension between man and machine, with robotic sounds and textures channeling emotions that are deeply, essentially human. It’s a tension that Hercules and Love Affair, the brainchild of American-Belgian DJ Andy Butler, understands better than most. With Omnion, Butler and singers Rouge Mary and Gustaph tap into this rich history, delivering one of the most emotive albums of the year using a blend of synthetic beats and human voices..
On paper, the dance collective Hercules and Love Affair’s fourth album seems like a risky endeavour. The topic of mainstay Andy Butler’s relapse into drug addiction and his recovery hangs over Omnion. It should be a tough subject for an album thick with four-to-the-floor beats to address – who wants to be reminded of the downside of hedonism while lost on the dancefloor? – but Butler has form in hitching difficult topics to dance music.
Nearly a decade on from Blind, their immersively addictive and so far most popular track, Hercules And Love Affair return with another stylishly polished deep disco album which echoes the spirit of New York dance. Omnion, the fourth record from the group formed by Andrew Butler back in 2004 after moving to the Big Apple from Colorado, once again features a revolving cast of collaborators. The title track welcomes New Yorker Sharon Van Etten for a number which has a similar sound to College.
Andy Butler's understanding of disco's heritage appears much deeper than most other revivalists. Songs like "Blind" and "Raise Me Up," from Hercules & Love Affair's 2008 debut album, showed Butler had grasped that disco was as much about struggle as emancipation, with politics of sexuality and identity played out across the dance floor. Hercules & Love Affair's fourth album, Omnion, is also touched by specific tragedies: the massacres at Orlando's Pulse nightclub and the Bataclan in Paris.
When Hercules and Love Affair, the ongoing semi-retro dance music project of musician and producer Andy Butler, released their gorgeous debut album in 2008, it was the perfect environment for them to flourish. Disco and house music were experiencing a robust underground revival, lead by collectives like Horse Meat Disco and Honey Soundsystem, and a real appreciation for the detailed history of dance music was front and center in clubs across the country. Bolstered by A-list vocal talent like ANOHNI and Nomi Ruiz, seeing Hercules and Love Affair ascent to the top of the zeitgeist that year was like watching an up-and-coming athlete crush it at the Olympics.
Disco has long been about more than dancing. Hercules and Love Affair (2008) was born of mainman Andy Butler’s first recovery from addiction. Success plunged him back into the lifestyle. Omnion, this New York outfit’s fourth album, finds Butler living clean again, producing slinky and varied club bangers alongside off-plan songs with greater undertow.
On Hercules and Love Affair's fourth studio album, Omnion, Andy Butler and company cover way more ground than they did on previous releases — always a risky move. As an album wanders, more opportunities arise for a wrong turn. Omnion veers to a fault.
It's obvious that it's a different Hercules and Love Affair on this album from the opening title track, "Omnion." It sounds like an outtake from Arcade Fire's Reflektor era, as singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten's pleading vocals span a beat-light, synth-filled instrumental, like dance ….