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Hercules and Love Affair - Hercules and Love Affair

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Artist: Hercules and Love Affair

Album: Hercules and Love Affair

Label: EMI / DFA

Review date: Mar. 11, 2008

It would be a mistake to see Hercules and Love Affair as the next now thing to roll off the DFA product line. For one thing, Brooklyn DJ Andy Butler started work on his ambitious debut album more than four years ago, during an innocent collaboration with friend Antony Hegarty. But plenty of new music takes years to properly ferment. No, the real reason Butler’s nu-disco sounds so out of time is that there’s not much nu about it. While most disco revivalists can’t shake the self-awareness of our age, Hercules and Love Affair is a sincere and sumptuous stab at the mirrorball splendor of the 1970s.

Nothing sums up the difference between the current fad’s inhibitions and Butler’s lack thereof like the album’s lead single, “Blind.” Along with a flamboyant Antony leading the way, Butler takes direct aim at the sort of diva disco that was both the locus of the genre’s biggest mainstream successes as well as a considerable repository of its excesses. Antony laments (with energy!) about how the stars, and the potential for stardom, he saw as a child grew dimmer the closer he got: “To see you now / To hear you now / I can look outside myself / And I must examine my breath and look inside / Because I feel blind / Because I feel blind.” Between Antony’s spot-on stabs of drama (not to mention a couple of choice “mmmmms” and “ooooohs”), a galloping clavichord battles a trumpet over a pulsing Moroder-style electro groove. “Blind” will undoubtedly go down as one of 2008’s best songs.

Elsewhere, Butler takes center stage. On “Hercules Theme,” he shows off his aptitude as an arranger, skills aided and not constricted by his classical training. From the foundation of a funky electric piano stomp, an almost impossibly ornate and lush bevy of strings and horns swirl and weave, cascading into a full-on jam replete with a trumpet solo. I don’t know how much the recording budget for this project was, but this song calls to mind the a brand of high-budget disco pop – at times almost theatrical in its flourish – which hasn’t really been approached this side of ’81. Most would be punching above their weight with this kind of music regardless of how many studio string and horn player friends they might have. Perhaps he’s called Hercules for a reason.

The Grecian theme continues on “Athene,” the song that greased Butler’s hype machine when he posted a lo-fi version of it on MySpace last year. Sung by DJ Kim Ann, it posits a loping bass groove behind an ode to the goddess of heroic endeavor. “You Belong” hits the requisite pleasure centers with its clubby electro. The closest Butler gets to the disinterested disco of the Italians Do It Better label is “Iris,” which worms its way into your head with a refrain any self-pitying fool can identify with: “Today is the day, for someone else.”

Aside from “Iris,” however, Hercules and Love Affair may just be a little too disco (read: too gay) for today’s Ed Banger acolytes who feel at home around hyper-masculine powerhouse (which Justice have laughingly called “2007 disco”). That, of course, isn’t breaking news; this brand of flamboyance has historically been shunned by a still-insecure America while championed oversees. (In related news, EMI and DFA released this New York product in Europe on March 10. A U.S. release date is still TBD.) But it’s important to note that Butler’s embrace of this music is wholly without kitsch, caricature or any of the myriad irony-derived poses that would otherwise prey on such an offering. He calls it an affair, but it feels more like true love.

By Brandon Kreitler

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