Thursday, 20 December 2007

Strong like Hercules

There's no doubt that DFA signings Hercules & Love Affair are going to be big in 2008. The hype about their forthcoming debut album, 'Hercules & Love Affair', has been building for the best part of six months. Much of this has centred around the much-publicised participation of Antony Hegarty (he of Mercury Music Prize-winning Antony & The Johnsons fame), which has already got tongues wagging online. Yet Hegarty has a relatively small part to play in the Hercules & Love Affair story; the real star of the show is producer/songwriter Andrew Butler.

Indeed, it is Butler who is the brains behind the operation. A well known face on the New York art scene, it is his songs and musical vision being showcased on 'Hercules & Love Affair'. Sure, the album was co-produced by Tim Goldsworthy, and the band also includes friends Antony, Nomi and Kim Ann Foxmann (herself another New York scenester DJ), but there's no doubt that Butler wears the trousers.

To some degree, whether or not Butler is in charge is irrelevant; either way, 'Hercules & Love Affair' is a very good album. It continues the DFA label's recent fascination with disco (see Holy Ghost!, Still Going etc) whilst retaining the sort of arty inventiveness Goldsworthy and James Murphy hold so dear. Yet for all the scenester connections, 'Hercules & Love Affair' is basically a pop album at heart. It's understated pop album at that – the sort of disco-centric pop made by Arthur Russell, or Kelley Polar had he hung around with the DFA rather than Morgan Geist. It's loose, soft and easy-going on one hand, eccetric and up-for-it on the other.

Admittedly, there are dancefloor moments, most notably 'Blind' – a Moroder influenced disco stomper featuring a particularly impressive vocal from Hegarty. It's the sound of Escort doing 'Go Bang', or 'Kiss Me Again' given a synth-driven kick up the arse. It will sound brilliant on the radio. Equally impressive is 'You Belong', a kind of stoned version of Inner City with Nomi doing her best Paris Grey impression while Hegarty croons along in the background. The skanking disco of 'Raise Me Up' is a pure blast of feelgood emotion – in the right remixer's hands, it could be huge. Of the other uptempo moments, it's the hooky, horn-heavy 'Hercules Theme' that stands out – all soaring strings, shuffling disco grooves and singalong choruses (you'll want to join in with the "loverboy Hercules" refrain).

Showing he's no one-trick pony, Butler proves himself more than adept at handling downtempo moments. The early-‘80s NY groove of 'Athene' (Kim Ann Foxmann's moment of glory), tingly MDMA-pop of 'Iris' and low-slung closer 'True, False/Fake, Real' (which, incidentally, comes with classic Arthur Russell strings) are testament to this.

It all adds up to an album that more than lives up to the hype. Personally, I'd prefer to hear a bit more of the cosmic disco-meets-classic house outlined in 'Roar', but that's a minor quibble. Butler is still in the early stages of his career, and there's sure to be plenty more to come from him throughout 2008. By the time 'Hercules & Love Affair' lands – and Butler's superb remix of the next Aeroplane single – he'll be proclaimed as New York's next skewed pop genius. Just remember where you heard it first.

'Hercules & Love Affair' by Hercules & Love Affair will be released by DFA/EMI on March 10 2008. The single 'Blind' will be released on March 3.

Hear clips from the album at the Hercules & Love Affair MySpace

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