Hercules and Love Affair Enhanced
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|1. Time Will|
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|8. This Is My Love|
|9. Raise Me Up|
|10. True False/Fake Real|
|11. Classique #2|
|13. Bonus video for 'Blind'|
2008 debut album from the Electro outfit led by Andrew Butler and featuring Antony (from Antony & The Johnsons), Nomi, and Kim Ann. Andrew Butler emerged from making music for college-based dance projects into a fully-fledged recording artist, via the New York art scene. He hooked up with his friends and got them to collaborate and sing his songs and Hercules & Love Affair is the result. This album is 2008's most exciting dancefloor concoction, an arthouse vision of Pure Pop by way of futuristic Electronica and classic Dance music, where beautiful, bruising harmonies and tensile rhythms collide in resurgent soundscapes and emotive Disco workouts. The album is co-produced by Andrew Butler with Tim Goldsworthy of DFA at Plantain Studios in the midst of Manhattan, New York City. DFA.
Top Customer Reviews
Well don't expect to be blown away by Hercules & Love Affair's self titled debut. While it has some clever, striking moments, this album is mostly repetitive mellow beats, solid vocals from a much-beloved singer, and some pleasant flourishes around the edges. It's not a bad album by any means, but it's a bit too easy to daydream during many of the songs.
It opens with a thick drum being tapped, snapping fingers, and the stern command, "Don't lie to me/don't make it up," before the song melts into a tangle of twisted synth, gentle electro beats and a warm, thick layer of keyboard like drizzled honey. This is probably the high point of the whole album.
Then things slump with "Hercules' Theme," an electrofunky tune riddled with horns and electric violins -- which sounds promising until you realize that the entire tune is running on a treadmill. And that continues into the songs that follow -- breathy hip-hoppy techno, blippy dance music, delicate electronica smothered by unspeakably melodramatic singing, sparkly electropop, and finally finishing with the joyously cluttered finale "True False Fake Real."
Too bad the whole album wasn't like that last song -- colourful, unpredictable and profoundly odd. It's worth noting that "Hercules & Love Affair" is not a terrible album -- not even really a bad one, and there are some truly gorgeous moments like "Easy," a darkly twisting little number that left me craving lots more. And it's graced with plenty of jazzy secondary instrumentation.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Featuring the haunting mournful vocals of Antony Hegarty (from Antony & The johnsons) on most tracks, the group's eponymous debut features just 10 tracks, but each is outstanding, from more sombre opening cut "Time will", to the horn filled largely instrumental "Hercules' theme" (which reminds me a bit of eighties UK group Imagination).
Other upbeat numbers are the keyboard adorned "Athene", the very disco-ish "Blind", the throbbing horn-filled "This is my love" (with a Jazzy feel and spoken/sung vocals from DJ Andy Butler), the incredibly catchy "Raise me up", and closing cut "True false, fake real" (great percussion and a capella singing). "Iris" and "Easy" take the tempo down, both are subdued atmospheric numbers.
My favourite song is "You belong", which is House/Disco with a razor sharp bubbly synth line. Incredibly catchy and very clubby.
From the glowing reviews I'd read about the album, I half feared it would be one of those arty albums that would be greatly admired but difficult to get into. Happily, its not the case with this clever, superb album which just gets better with each spin. A stellar debut!
But it sure makes for brilliant theatre. It's like looking at an abstract allegory of "sorrow" or "passion." The emotions are so exaggerated and decadent that they take on a classical quality. The album's use of the Greek theme (songs reference Hercules, Athena and Iris) is a very inspired touch -- Greek tragedy is basically made out of the same material. I even wish there were more of this. Just think what they could do with the story of Achilles!
It might take a couple of listens to see just how dark the album is, since it is very fast-paced and partially rooted in hedonistic disco music. Even the slower songs have a very firm, up-tempo rhythmic backbone. Nonetheless, of all the songs, only "Hercules Theme" sounds jaunty and cheerful, and the vocalist's sexy mewling actually sounds like fun. Everywhere else, though, there is no salvation in sensuality. The reverberating, nocturnal synth line in "You Belong" leads to the tortured chorus (and neat bit of gender-bending), "You belong to him tonight / there is nothing I can do," sung in a half-plaintive, half-snarling tone. Opener "Time Will" is a long, seductive build-up that eventually culminates in a burning, operatic jilted-lover's lament from Antony Hegarty.
Musically, the disco connection is the most obvious. Chugging seventies bass appears in "Athene," "This Is My Love" and "Raise Me Up." For the techno connoisseur, though, the album offers some of the most authentic Chicago house and Detroit techno around. The first clue is the chilled synth at the very end of "Time Will," which is pure Derrick May (the vignette "Rest" on Innovator sounds exactly like this). The bassline in "Easy" is another vintage Chicago touch. Eighties techno was built on these mechanical-sounding rhythms, each processed note awkwardly separated from the others. (The rattling, spacy drum track in "Easy" is something else entirely, though -- perhaps closer to early nineties IDM?) But the real payoff is at the end -- the bonus track "Classique #2" is a perfect Detroit-style, instrumental twelve-inch club single. It's got the no-frills beat, the mechanical bass mentioned above, and a funky staccato synth lead, looped endlessly, with occasional vocal samples and long stretches where the melody breaks and the rhythm grinds by itself.
The vocal duties are handled in the collective style favoured by Massive Attack and Gorillaz, with four vocalists. Their styles contrast very well. All the most fiery and dramatic vocal parts are handled by Antony Hegarty. Compared to him, Kim Ann Foxman is a much more limited singer, but the production skillfully strengthens her voice by mixing it down and blurring it with the music. This quieter approach sounds relaxing and dreamy, a warmer respite in between Hegarty's nerves-on-edge histrionics. "Iris" even encourages one to look outside oneself and share the moment with someone else, a valuable reminder in the midst of all the exhibitionistic passion flying around.
The album also makes extensive use of a horn section, in nearly every song. The jazz-house combination always sounds smooth and sophisticated, but here it also effectively plays against the theatricality of the songs. It sort of makes one think of the seedy underside of glitzy, vaudeville-era show business -- ostentatious artificiality onstage, lachrymose despair backstage, with the two often blending together, so that the despair is communicated using the flamboyant onstage style.
Sometimes all of these elements come together in the same song. "This Is My Love" is not as attention-grabbing as "You Belong" or "Blind," Andrew Butler's vocal is very low-key and modest. After the fey first verse, the disco rhythm kicks in and the song bounces along at a breezy pace. In the second chorus, a droning synth wafts in after each vocal line, creating a melancholy counterpoint. Then, there is a long instrumental outro where subtle rhythmic layers are added around the bassline. This gentle, unassuming song grows into arguably the most pleasant and musically satisfying moment on the album.
Really the only bum track in the whole lot is "True False/Fake Real." It's a competent enough instrumental; I think I'd like it more without the voice repeating the song title. But the bonus tracks "Classique #2" and "Roar" are better as instrumentals, with much tighter club rhythms, and really, the title isn't clever enough to warrant repetition.
However, that leaves eleven tracks of varying degrees of brilliance on the CD. Like other great electronic albums of the 2000s such as Luomo's Vocalcity and The Knife's Silent Shout, Hercules And Love Affair was made by people who knew a lot about classic techno and house, and were able to reinterpret and build on it. Highly recommended.
I'll admit that my favorite songs are the singles- "Hercules Theme", "Blind" and "You Belong" are all where I think the group hits their stride, rocking with stupendous momentum over flawless disco basslines and airtight brass garnishes. About half the album operates at a slower pace, and I find my attention sometimes wanders during songs like "Iris" which lack the vitality of the more anthem-y tunes. I also cannot get into Kim Ann Foxman's singing. She's certainly not a bad singer, but after Antony blazing through something like "Blind" and Nomi Ruiz' performance on "You Belong", as heartbreaking as it is sensual, Kim Ann's low key murmur doesn't quite have the same vitality.
There is a definite energy behind "Blind" especially, one of those rare songs that seems to have taken on a life of its own in the hands of its creators. These are ideal dance tunes, propulsive and catchy and free of self-consciousness or stylistic contrivances. The slow tunes also allow Butler to stretch out into some interesting sound design, even if the songs themselves don't hit as hard. "Easy" forgoes the disco thump for a more leftfield and ambient approach that makes for a satisfying trip hop outing, aided by Antony's reliably engaging croon. This is certainly a divisive album as some people find it either self-indulgent or simply unpleasant to listen to, but I imagine any motivated nightlifer or dance fiend will be thrilled.
Those expecting the sounds of Chic, Seventies-Era Bee Gees and Donna Summer will be slightly disappointed because Hercules and Love Affair have updated the sounds of disco into something new by incorporating modern synths and effects as well as offbeat rhythms including some dub sounds. The majority of songs on this album belong on the dancefloor although two slow electronic songs creep in (Iris, Easy). Standout tracks include: "Blind," "You Belong" and the funky "Athene."