Release Date: May 26, 2014
Record label: Moshi Moshi Records
Hercules & Love Affair's heyday was 2008, when the NYC collective grabbed the attention of the world with soul-scorching songs 'You Belong' and 'Blind' taken from their self-titled debut. The set was largely the creation of main sorter outer DJ/producer Andy Butler, with his acquired dance floor acumen and choice selection of charismatic vocalists. If in the past the output of Hercules could be described as some kind of mutant disco funk, the current state has gone one badder and transformed into pumping house tinged with technological murmurs.
The balance between strength and vulnerability has long been a magic formula in dance music and especially in gay dance music. Hercules & Love Affair's third album zeroes in on this with hawk-eyed precision, pairing pumping house beats with voices full of world-weary gravitas. On past albums, bandleader Andy Butler reworked classic disco, but this record - the group's most straightforward - unapologetically revels in the scuzzy analog house of the 80s and 90s.
The Feast of the Broken Heart and 2011's Blue Songs are more dissimilar than their titles indicate. Andy Butler retains writing and production partner Mark Pistel but otherwise refreshes his house syndicate with new collaborators and voices. Viennese production duo Haze Factory, who previously remixed Butler and Shaun J. Wright's "Forever More" and were a highlight of Butler's 2012 DJ-Kicks set, are added to the mix.
Before Robyn danced on her own, before Adele rolled in the deep, there was Andy Butler. Of course, the idea of inherently sad music that you could also dance to was hardly revolutionary before 2008 but Hercules And Love Affair – who, for all intents and purposes, is Butler – seemed to reboot the genre when they arrived on the scene with their debut album. Butler’s masterstroke on H&LA’s debut single Blind was to rope in Antony Hegarty.
Andy Butler's troupe started life as nu-disco evangelists, aided by pals such as Antony Hegarty, but ditched their downbeat laments for some Sylvesteresque shenanigans. They've since looked to Chicago rather than New York for their influence, embracing 808s and Traxx-style rippers. The Feast of the Broken Heart sees a revolving line up of vocalists, including Krystle Warren, plus Hercules live regulars Rouge Mary and Gustaph jumping on a selection of acid and tech-house productions.
Hercules and Love Affair is an amorphous project with a roster that, aside from the group’s mastermind and artistic director Andy Butler, has turned over completely with each of its three albums so far. But its mission has remained consistent throughout: to breathe new life into the sounds and structures of early dance music, particularly the interplay between producer and vocalist that underpinned the genre’s formative years. On the group’s first two records, 2008’s self-titled debut and 2011’s Blue Songs, they accomplished that goal by exploding the tropes of early house music while simultaneously paying fealty to them, resulting in tracks like the quasi-operatic, Antony-led “Blind” that reincarnated the style into ambitiously strange shapes.
The man behind the curtain of Hercules & Love Affair, Andy Butler, issued a determined statement of intentions, concepts and ambitions at the helm of the campaign for his new LP, The Feast Of The Broken Heart: “I wanted nasty basslines, stormy, bleary-eyed sounds, fiery, rough, tough and ragged old school house productions that sounded almost techno. I didn’t want polite, I wanted aggressive. ”? The Big Apple-based DJ and producer backed up that intent with the lead single for his third long-player and follow-up to 2011’s lauded Blue Songs.
Reviving the past is a mixed business. On one hand, two of this year's best albums, Todd Terje's It's Album Time and Chromeo's White Women, have proven that you can amass a passionate cult audience (and sell albums to boot) by designing elaborate tributes to bygone dance styles. DJ/producer Andy Butler's Hercules and Love Affair, which draws inspiration mainly from '80s and '90s house, contains some of Terje's sense of humor and Chromeo's sonic muscularity, but Butler's music also shares the gay theatricality of RuPaul, who's made his own cottage industry out of milking a decades-old persona.
It’s a lingering injustice that Andy Butler’s Hercules & Love Affair will forever be measured against ‘Blind’ – their 2008 Antony Hegarty-fronted debut single. ‘The Feast Of The Broken Heart’, H&LA’s third album, fights to correct this. More club-oriented than 2011’s middling ‘Blue Songs’, it sounds like the cutting edge of London or Chicago circa 1988: hip-house on ‘Hercules Theme 2014’, acid synths on ‘5:43 To Freedom’.
It's a nice problem to have, but pity the act who make the perfect debut. With their 2008 self-titled album, Hercules & Love Affair delivered an instant, contemporary classic that conveyed precisely who they were. Where do you go from there? 2011's Blue Songs offered few clear answers. The band's second album was torn between reductive '90s house revivalism and more esoteric, arty tendencies, and sounded unconvincing on both fronts.The Feast Of The Broken Heart is, thankfully, a much better record.
Hercules and Love Affair's self-titled 2008 debut was exciting, in large part, because of the way it exemplified, not to mention totally refreshed, modern disco-house music. It's hard to imagine newer, bigger albums in the same genre (including Daft Punk's Random Access Memories and this year's Todd Terje debut) existing without this predecessor. So it's a shame, then, that the group's third album, The Feast of the Broken Heart, sounds so static.
The rotating cast of Hercules & Love Affair, the project helmed by New York City producer Andy Butler, can be its biggest strength as well as an occasional weakness. Unlike the scattershot 2011 album “Blue Songs,” this third LP unspools more like a night on the dance floor ushered along by a DJ in complete control of the crowd and his genre. Once again Butler has tapped a series of guest vocalists, notably Krystle Warren and John Grant, to bring his disco and house compositions to life.
The disco and funk sounds that were central to the self-titled 2008 debut from Hercules & Love Affair have all but disappeared from DJ Andrew Butler’s project. Over a handful of mixes and 2011’s sophomore effort Blue Songs, Butler has delved deeper into the sounds of early Chicago house and hard techno, a harsher but equally danceable sonic palette. Such changes continue on his latest LP, The Feast Of The Broken Heart, which is rougher and more determined than anything else he’s released under the Hercules & Love Affair moniker.
There’s a strange, steely discipline to what Hercules & Love Affair do. Usually dance acts with a very particular schtick tend to broaden it out a bit by album number three – and that especially goes for those who’ve spent a considerable amount of time touring; after all there’s nothing like playing the same songs night-in-night-out to increase the urge to get a bit of variety into proceedings. But here we are with H&LA’s third album, and absolutely nothing has changed.