The irresistible disco baseline from the opening number on Hercules and Love Affair’s (H&LA) sophomore effort is the first act of deception from New York DJ, Adam Butler. Unlike their eponymous debut, Butler’s producer-led collective’s second effort is an infinitely more mellow collection than its predecessor. While the 2008 debut resulted in disco banger after disco banger, Blue Songs, as the title suggests, is far more sedated — taking a nod from Acid House. This squelching combination draws obvious inspiration from the likes of Gil Scott Heron, Marshall Jefferson, and Frankie Knuckles. Sounding like something from 1989, when Chicago House was at its peak, Blue Songs is as much a pastiche as it is a retrospective commentary from a group of talented record producers.
The most captivating cut on the record is undoubtedly the lead single, “My House” as it boasts 1980s House piano, as their new guest vocalist, Shaun Wright, chants, “But my house is in order/My home”. This lovingly crafted piece of updated revivalism will please self-dubbed “art fags” and hardcore fans of Butler’s Mr. INTL label, which specializes in music from between 1985 and 1994. Also worth a mention is the Grace Jones-style impression in “Answers Coming Down”, and the wraith-like falsetto of the opening number, “Painted Eyes”.
The evident modification in Butler’s cast and scenery however has shifted the H&LA’s parameters quite significantly. Moving from New York to Denver and Vienna, where he collaborated with techno legend Patrick Pulsinger, H&LA’s second effort dips to an unexpected lull in its middle section. “Boy Blue” is a quiet and repetitive number with an unexpected acoustic guitar that paves the way for “Blue Song”, an oddly placed track that sounds like something the Beach Boys might have produced had they been forced into a stint in the jungle.
This dip is remedied by the pulsing “Falling” and “I Can’t Wait” — a singular track driven by a spellbinding vocal reverb. The latter is a born dance floor staple. Yet, as we meander to the finish line from clubland chaos to the relentless hangover that is the album’s finale, we find the path all the more muddied. Here, the 1987 Sterling Void cover “It’s Alright” is performed by H&LA regular, Kim Ann Foxman, who whooshes past the listener, as her voice remains in the lower reaches of spoken-word presentation. Unfortunately, this cover feels anachronistically placed within the collection. Neither passionate nor dreamlike, it is the album’s most hollow moment.
It may seem like a populist desire to hunger for the theatricality of H&LA’s previous guest vocalist Antony Hegarty, but it is something I imagine many H&LA fans will be waiting for. Hercules and Love Affair’s breakout debut was immeasurably wonderful because it was unabashedly camp and OTT, forcing all of its listeners into disco-induced comas. Blue Songs finds Butler and his crew of collaborators laying back to a place where the dance floor can be as much a place for ethereal contemplation as it is for unrepentant debauchery.