Damaged emotion, carnal frenzies, and genuine club bangers mark an exceptional debut from Andy Butler and his myriad guests.
Editor's note: We originally ran this review upon it's March UK release. We're rerunning this PopMatters Pick this week as it finally released in the US on 24 June.
Most anyone can tell you the point at which a song either grabs or loses you. There is that unspoken moment within any track that can either ruin the experience (to a certain extent, anyway) or amplify it to unimaginable heights. With Hercules and Love Affair (NYC DJ Andy Butler’s labor of love), there appears to be an almost fool hearted attempt to find those moments and stretch them out across a venerable sea of space and sound.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that what Tim Goldsworthy and Andy Butler have created here is only mildly revolutionary. And, really, it’s not even that; it just sort of feels like it. What Hercules and Love Affair seem to do better than a rather formidable heap of like-minded artists within the dance/electronic genre, is stretch their credibility and good natured crafting to the point of suspension of disbelief. They do this with the use of damaged emotion, carnal frenzies, genuine club bangers, and an overall jubilant imagery. In short, Andy Butler may have just killed the radio star.
Essentially, Hercules and Love Affair is not much more than a sordid trip through and around Butler's more than eager subconscious. Collectively, however, it is a uniformly odd and charming venture, traversing like-minded intricacies and prickling poetry. He does not work alone, is the point. Whether it's the skills of DFA co-owner Tim Goldsworthy behind the boards, the eclectic mix of vocal guest work pumping out that sharply tuned identity crisis, or Butler himself, showing a genuine understanding of the fine line between debauchery and indulgence, there are many components that make Hercules and Love Affair the markedly attractive, would-be mess that it ultimately presents.
Butler's first single under this moniker, entitled "Classique #2", was released on DFA in September of 2007. The track is not featured on the full length album, but on its own was able to create a significant amount of hype/buzz via all the usual suspects. The self-proclaimed "euphoric disco" displayed on the single was a viable portent of the coming album, as well as a cheerfully off-center and distinguished introduction to Butler's methods. When that trebled harmonic structure takes over to become the prevailing melody, taking little away from the forward momentum of the track, the thumping bass acts as a catalyst for something with far more longevity than is ever expected. Butler builds upon these ideas throughout Hercules and Love Affair.
Album opener "Time Will" is a painfully monotonous track that stretches its self well beyond its means before you realize that its strength lies in the overpowering nature of its foundation. And that's where it grabs you. You find this kind of systematic breakdown of expectations all through out the album. Later, on "You Belong" and even "This Is My Love", Butler and Goldsworthy sharpen their fangs, and bludgeon an amorphous landscape of sonic space with those tingling, simultaneous morsels of semblance and chaos.
"Blind" is the first single released from Hercules and Love Affair. Admittedly, the track is something of a Trojan horse. Its initial beat method is not only oddly simplistic, but a little underwhelming. It isn't until shortly after the minute mark that one can see the journey that is about to be taken. It all plays out a bit like a slightly less flashy, slightly more depressing (slightly more talented) Gnarls Barkley track. Soothing vibrato placed atop a crisp, mellow canvas; danceable as well as memorable for numerous reasons. Not the least of which being the different mouthpieces that Butler chose to bring forth his "message".
The album contains a number of guest vocals from NYC notables such as Brooklyn's own Nomi and Kim Ann Foxman. Most notably, however, is the 5-track guest spot from Antony Hegarty of Antony & the Johnsons (who incidentally released my favorite album of 2005, but that's beside the point) who plays an invaluable role in providing the album with an undeniable vulnerable quality, while always conveying a most powerful sense of grace.
Going back to Gnarls Barkley for a moment, the two artists seem to have more than a couple of things in common. It's not just the electro pop/soul or "disco" nature of their sonic bases, it's the way that each artist's delivery is both labored and effortless at the same time. In the case of Gnarls Barkley, however, things tend to get a bit too familiar as their sound goes along. They simply become muddled, cluttered, and, well, shtick-oriented to a fault. Hercules and Love Affair avoids this problem due to the simple fact that Butler's ambitions and innovations come from a place of silence. This is to say that he is not overflowing with concepts, but the few that he does choose to utilize, he does almost to perfection.
An interview with Time Out London conducted with Butler helped to shed some light on his views about collaborating with artists: "Collaboration in general is super-exciting to me," he says "I enjoy drawing in tons of people and working on things that are serving as an extension of the music. It’s the whole idea of just learning from working with other people that excites me most about collaboration. You learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot about the work."
This sort of altruistic quality can be found all over Hercules and Love Affair. There is a dedication and an ardor in play that cannot be denied. When Andy Butler and Co. are able to find those moments that grip you, they are played and built upon. Not just for your enjoyment, but for their's as well. When all is said and done, the main reason why Butler is so damned enjoyable as an artist and producer is because he is probably just as big a music fan as you or me. The only difference: he doesn't overthink things.