The Carl Online


Modern Classis: Hercules and Love Affair by carlmagazine
October 21, 2010, 2:23 am
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , ,

by Charlie Rosenthal
Disco gets a bum rap. Every history of punk music begins with some sort of screed against the materialistic, drug-fueled excesses of terribly trashy, popular disco, much as every account of the beginnings of grunge attacks the similar excesses of hair metal. The problem is that disco is inherently easy to understand. It is very uncomplicated music. You dance to it. You do cocaine to it. You abuse polyester to it. There isn’t too much deep, deep introspection or social commentary in the music. Even in the academic sphere, disco is hated. For example, in his textbook Introduction to Black Studies, Maulana Karenga (the guy who invented Kwanzaa) brutally attacks disco as a white, pop bastardization of traditionally black forms of music, such as soul and funk. Admittedly, disco does deserve some of this hatred. Some disco does really, really, really suck. However, occasionally, disco can be brilliant.

In 2008, Andy Butler of DFA Records, under the pseudonym Hercules and Love Affair, along with a large cast of guest vocalists, most famously Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, released a self-titled album. Drawing from the wells of disco and classic house music, Butler crafted an album that smashes nearly all of the misconceptions about disco. There is discussion of important themes, ranging from aging to acceptance. The musical chops are impeccable, with Tim Goldsworthy and Butler expertly blending horns, synthesizers, drums, vocal samples, and more exotic instruments to create a lush, deep musical environment. On the most basic level, Hercules and Love Affair is a great dance album. I’m not sure you could play it at a Sayles Dance, but you could certainly get away with it on some wildly progressive dance floor in either New York or Stockholm. It’s grooveable. However, the greatest triumph of Hercules and Love Affair is the addition of vocals. It’s that addition that changes it from a dance album or a party album to a listening album. It’s not really meditative headphone music (it’s far too bouncy for that), but it’s certainly deep enough to be really, really listened to.

Lead single “Blind” is perhaps the most evocative of Andy Butler’s uncanny ability to work vocalists in. The aforementioned Antony steps in and delivers perhaps his defining performance. Coming across as a sort of male diva, Antony’s voice quavers, soars, shrieks, and generally works to it’s fullest. For example, during the bridge, when most of the instrumental tracks drop out, he soars to unimaginable heights. He then rolls along, low, sort of murmuring about feeling things. It is, without a doubt, one of the most emotive vocal performances in recent electronic music history. Antony also shows up on album opener “Time Will,” a drastically different track. Instead of matching “Blind” and its towering heights, “Time Will” moves along at a slower burn. Antony doesn’t show off the full extent of his vocal talents, instead opting to mutter a bit over some handclaps, crying synths, and thumping drums. Otherwise, vocalists like Nomi Ruiz on “You Belong,” a house song based around an intelligible vocal sample, and a supremely smooth Kim Ann Foxman on “Athene” always add something to the track, creating uniqueness and an aural signpost to remember each song by.

Apparently, Hercules and Love Affair will be coming out with a new album in January. Whether or not its as good as their debut album remains to be seen, but, for now, we have this one testament to what can happen to disco when put into capable, modern hands.

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