Release Date: Aug 16, 2011
Record label: Moshi Moshi Records
Genre(s): Electronic, House, Pop/Rock, Club/Dance, Left-Field House
Like Arthur Russell, the late disco visionary whose work his music recalls, Andy Butler makes club jams that transcend the club. The second LP by his group, whose 2008 breakout "Blind" featured Antony Hegarty, is not about showcasing star vocalists, notwithstanding a cameo by Bloc Party's Kele Okereke on "Step Up," a nod to Eighties New York freestyle. Instead, it's about Butler's diverse songwriting: flanking idiosyncratic house jams (the single "My House," "I Can't Wait") is "Boy Blue," a soul-folk "It Gets Better" mash note, and "Blue Song," a cryptic ballad sung over electronics and a beautifully restless clarinet line.
On Blue Songs, the lineup of Andy Butler's Hercules & Love Affair is filled out with stable member Kim Ann Foxman, Mark Pistel (Consolidated, Meat Beat Manifesto), Shaun J. Wright, and Aerea Negrot, while several others -- including co-producer Patrick Pulsinger and well-suited guest vocalist Kele Okereke -- also contribute. The album, as indicated by its title, is subdued compared to the group’s self-titled full-length from 2008.
It’s been three years since Hercules and Love Affair released its self-titled debut to much acclaim, and from just about every angle it seems the follow-up was worth the wait. Here, the disco-revivalism is muted and traded out for a more house-oriented approach to mastermind Andy Butler’s bizarre, beautiful songwriting. Featuring a new cast of performers (including Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke), Blue Songs is a sophisticated and club-ready sophomore effort, even if—at times—it nearly crumbles under the weight of its own decadence and self-indulgences.
The irresistible disco baseline from the opening number on Hercules and Love Affair’s (H&LA) sophomore effort is the first act of deception from New York DJ, Adam Butler. Unlike their eponymous debut, Butler’s producer-led collective’s second effort is an infinitely more mellow collection than its predecessor. While the 2008 debut resulted in disco banger after disco banger, Blue Songs, as the title suggests, is far more sedated—taking a nod from Acid House.
As warp-speed broadband becomes universal and old-media hurtles towards a messy digital apocalypse, few job titles seem less tenable than ‘music journalist’. The reasons for this have flooded Twitter streams for months now, so let’s put aside the active-consumerism filler about how even Grandad’s got himself a wonkstep Tumblr and instead focus on Hercules & Love Affair’s new video ‘My House’. This video, much like the accompanying music, provides a fresh way of negating the need for critical analysis by emulating MTV Grind circa 1992 so accurately that only a Simon Reynolds-level acid-anthropologist could tell the difference.
Be warned, right off, that the Hercules and Love Affair on this album is not quite the same act as the group on 2008's Hercules and Love Affair. The band's songwriter, producer, and creative director, Andy Butler, remains in place, as does DJ/vocalist Kim Ann Foxman, but the others who lent their talents to the debut-- including singers Antony Hegarty and Nomi Ruiz, DFA producer Tim Goldsworthy, and !!! bassist Tyler Pope-- are replaced by a new team on a new label. Among the recruits are vocalists Aerea Negrot and Shaun Wright, and Bay Area producer Mark Pistel, whose previous credits include the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and industrial acts Meat Beat Manifesto and Consolidated.
The second album from Hercules and Love Affair finally arrives in North America as a deluxe edition with B-sides and remixes to satisfy fans who've been listening since its UK release in January. It mines similar territory to the American dance-pop group's acclaimed 2008 debut, but - as the title suggests - with a wistful tear in its eye. More a producer's project than a band, Hercules leader Andy Butler recruited mostly new singers to take on his mix of lovingly realized disco, house and slow burners.
Hercules and Love Affair is not really a band—at least not in the traditional sense. Consider them a concept; an ever-evolving mixture of ideas and motifs consolidated into a centralized working machine. In interviews producer-mastermind Andrew Butler would talk about the group as something of a masquerade, one which would be adapted and reconfigured through decades, and with a long line of new vocalists.
Is dance music really all about the vocalist? We had that debate here at Slant Magazine many years ago, and it got a bit nasty. I’m not saying any of us who worked on our list of 100 Greatest Dance Songs ever actually thought that the singer was the foremost element in any great dance song, but there were certainly those among us for whom it held equal ground with beats and basslines. I can admit I was one of the dissenters, thinking the latter two clearly more integral.
Hercules and Love Affair's eponymous debut was lovingly crafted revivalism that avoided mere mimicry via big, anthemic hooks and full-blooded performances. Its successor, Blue Songs, is also composed of immaculately produced house and disco, but the two most charismatic vocalists from the last go-round, Antony Hegarty and Nomi Ruiz, are absent – as, for the most part, are the songs. Matching their 2008 anthem Blind might have been too much to ask, but too much of Blue Songs sounds rote and empty.
Though it came out all the way back in January, over in England, Hercules and Love Affair‘s newest long-player, Blue Songs, is finally getting an official release stateside, complete with a trio of bonus tracks and a handful of remixes. While their 2008 self-titled debut was well-lauded for its early adoption of the then about to break disco revival, the shtick has come to wear a bit thin, and the new crop of vocal collaborators just isn’t up to the snuff of the last. Replacing the likes of Antony with Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, flatly put, is a step in the wrong direction for such a dramatic, house-indebted group.
A jubilant and celebratory collection of large tunes. Ian Wade 2011 Blue Songs sees Hercules lynchpin Andy Butler and his shape-shifting array of chums return, after scoring gold in the collaborative and critical sense with a self-titled 2008 debut. That breakthrough was spearheaded by the sublime Yazoo-channelling single Blind, with vocals by Antony Hegarty (of ...and the Johnsons fame); its parent LP a record justifiably celebrated as one of the best of its kind to emerge in the last decade.
DJ Andy Butler has made some adjustments to Hercules And Love Affair. Butler is no longer collaborating with Antony Hegarty of Antony And The Johnsons or DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy. Vocalists Aerea Negrot and Shaun Wright have joined Kim Ann Foxman, and the band has also added producer Mark Pistel of Meat Beat Manifesto.Blue Songs reflects more than the band’s lineup changes, as Hercules And Love Affair has moved away from the fast-paced disco of its self-titled 2008 LP and toward more mellow house music.