Hercules & Love Affair – Hercules & Love Affair (DFA, 2008)
This review originally appeared as part of The Stylus Decade, January 2010.
Grounded in disco, routing forwards via UK synth-pop and Chicago house, and reaching back through brassy Seventies funk, Andrew Butler’s project seems conscious of its place within the lineage of New York dance – and yet the music easily and confidently transcends its influences. For other members of his collective, Butler’s awareness of historical context barely registers. As vocalist Nomi explained to me in 2008, “I never listened to disco, really. It’s strange, but when I listen to the record, it relates to me just as a modern, futuristic, mainstream electronic pop record. I don’t have those references in my head, so I can’t really refer to it as disco. The way it registers in my ears is just as some new kind of pop.”
Nomi is one of four voices on the album – two male, one female, one trans – although given Antony Hegarty’s contributions, which thread through five of the ten tracks, perhaps we have reached a land that lies beyond the boundaries of mere gender. Although Antony’s vocals sit well above the funky horns and disco bass, he doesn’t so much play the disco diva as adopt the persona of a lamenting deity, gazing down upon the mortal world with ineffable sorrow and yearning. His defining moment comes with “Blind”: the album’s centerpiece and emotional high water mark, casting a shadow from which its second half never fully emerges.
For having spent the first half ascending towards “Blind”, we now find ourselves inexorably ebbing away from it, despite some belated attempts to nudge us back into the party. Following the contemplative “Iris”, the crepuscular “Raise Me Up” and the frail idealism of “This Is My Love”, a returning honda-honda bassline suggests a girding of the loins – but the lovelorn Hegarty is having none of it. (“Life danced right out of me”;”I will never dance again”) The chirpy camp of “Hercules Theme” already feels like a distant memory, and not even the breezy swoop and bounce of “True/False, Fake/Real” can take us back to where we once were.