Music

Hercules and Love Affair: Blue Songs

What do you get when one of the most innovative dance producers working today tackles one of the most irritating music trends in the last 30 years?


Hercules and Love Affair

Blue Songs

Label: Moshi Moshi
US Release Date: 2011-08-17
UK Release Date: 2011-01-31
Amazon
iTunes

In 2008, Hercules and Love Affair released their self-titled debut, which became one of the most acclaimed albums of the year. It was the brainchild of New York composer-producer Andrew Butler, who enlisted the tremulous singer Antony Hegarty (of Antony & the Johnsons) to warble out most of his impossibly catchy earworms. Together, the pair created a sleek sound that sat somewhere between vintage 1970s disco and LCD Soundsystem: indebted to its roots, no doubt, but not confined by them.

On Blue Songs, Butler's follow-up to the darling that was Hercules and Love Affair, he shows the same penchant for futurist beat craft and compellingly androgynous vocalists. Unfortunately, the strides Hercules and Love Affair have made in the right direction are mostly canceled out by some puzzling choices scattered throughout the album. Kind of like Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat. You know -- two steps forward, two steps back. The most egregious of these choices is Butler’s dismissal of disco in favor of a more contemporary dance hall powerhouse: early '90s house. In many ways, the club music being made in the late '80s and early '90s is the logical successor to disco; after the punk-infused electronic of New Wave, the R&B-tinged house music that topped the charts returned to disco's opulence and flamboyance. But unless you're feeling extra-nostalgic for (or even tolerant of) acts like Ace of Base, Haddaway and Right Said Fred, Blue Songs is going to be a haul for you. It's like spending an hour with the brothers from A Night at the Roxbury, painful head jerks and all.

The switch-up briefly seems to work for Hercules and Love Affair on opener "Painted Eyes", perhaps because the DNA of the song is still heavily rooted in the disco that made the group's debut so enjoyable. Venezuelan singer Aerea Negrot does a more-than-passable Hegarty impression, and the string hook that pops up throughout the song gives it a great '70s vibe. But the rest of the time, you end up with songs like "My House", the lead single you swear you remember from 20 years ago. It's easily the most memorable thing here, and there's honestly plenty to like: the hook is catchy, the beat is very danceable, and all the synth and organ stabs immediately call to mind the best, cheesiest songs of the "Everybody Dance Now" era. But singer Shaun Wright's vocals are uncomfortably off-key, seemingly on purpose. And Butler and company squander their good graces by peppering the beginning of the song with joke sound effects from a Casio keyboard, then filling the last minute of the song with ridiculous, inexplicable scat noises.

Elsewhere, the process seems similar: take a solid beat, apply wonderfully goofy synths liberally, and then do something to screw it up a little bit. "I Can't Wait" sounds like a cross between the Mortal Kombat movie soundtrack and what you’d hear playing in a laser tag arena; it vacillates between endearing and irritating, but the tuneless, enervating vocals tip the scales fully toward irritation. The acoustic mid-album change-of-pacer "Boy Blue" could have been a nice palate cleanser if it weren't so boring and new age-y, and album closer "It's Alright" painfully shoots for social consciousness with lyrics like "Dictations enforced in Afghanistan / Revolution is in South Africa takin' a stand".

All told, Blue Songs isn’t exactly a bad album. It's just disappointing. Andrew Butler and his collaborators clearly have an idea of what they're doing, and sometimes the results are pretty enjoyable. But if Hercules and Love Affair was an example of how to do a dance album right in this day and age, Blue Songs is an example of how to do a dance album kind of mediocre-ly.

5

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image