Hercules and Love Affair – Hercules and Love Affair (2008)

Disco!

All over the internet, this album has been splattered all over the wall in little pieces, much like a Tarantino victim, showered in the shrapnel of Disco. A genre that apparently died when House took over, it’s going strong here.

DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy and NYC newcomer Andrew Butler lay down some absolutely vintage beats and basslines here, providing that most prized of things for their vocalists and collaborators: groove. This record is jam packed with groove, from the opening seconds of Antony Hegarty’s first appearance, ‘Time Will’, to the dying moments of ‘True/False, Fake/Real’, this flows and bubbles, bounces and sways with wonderful grooves.

Hegarty’s guest spots are sublime: ‘Time Will’ is almost jazzy, with his trademark near-feminine vocals (much like Nina Simone was almost a man, here the androgyny switches the other way?), deep bass and spare sound until the synths squelch around and disco’s classic strings swell up in the background. It’s a statement of intent (after all, he is “following my muse”), and a great opener for this tight ten song set.

Butler, the composer, duets on ‘Iris’ with Kim Ann Foxman, a slower, more 80’s kind of thing, reminiscient of the Eurythmics, vaguely (who were, after all, just English disco with our depressingly moody take on things… must be the rain). I’m not sure half the time whether to care about the lyrics here: it’s not exactly Dylan, and on a dancefloor, are you really looking for enlightenment beyond the next mix and something to sing along to? If not, then these words are for you! Horn sections peal all over this record, and the list of actual personnel (as opposed to computer programmes) is impressive, including !!!’s Tyler Pope on bass, the aformentioned Mr Hegarty and Nomi, also on vocals.

It’s Foxman’s first highlight, ‘Hercules Theme’, that sets this on fire. Burning from the speakers with a bright shining heat, this tune grabs you by the pelvis and drags you out of your seat/from your spot at the bar/in off the street/from the grave, and makes you dance. Building up a sequence of songs with equally impressive grooves, similar tempi and modern twists on disco vocalising, we reach the seriously good pair of ‘Athene’ and ‘Blind’. The former features Foxman, singing possibly the most erudite disco tune ever, extolling the virtues of Athene, the Greek goddess of war and wisdom.

‘Blind’, on the other hand, finishing off what would be the first side, is a bit more like House, until the vocals come in. Nothing can hide the seriously weird campness of Hegarty’s voice, but it’s a phenomenally wonderful voice. Musing on growing older and loneliness, this plateaus early, and keeps up that pace through its six wonderful minutes. Bigger and bigger wash the synths, more and more complex is the sonic map, and by the end, you’ve reached a classic hands in the air, sway along and fall in love with the person next to you moment.

So, want to turn the wax over, son?

As previously mentioned, ‘Iris’ takes us back down to Earth, and ‘Easy’ is the first sign that Earth might not be the nicest of places. Hegarty’s voice drops, the tone is portentious and dark, and you could be getting kicked out by the bouncers. It’s the kind of atmosphere that sounds like all the pressure’s gone in your ears or you’re underwater. This is the song that Guy Ritchie wishes he’d had ten years ago. It’s all light and happiness though, when Butler gets back on the mic for ‘This Is My Love’, hidden low in the mix, but those hi-hats are back, the disco is firmly back on, and the party is swinging, if in a little bit more of a relaxed way. Bleeps and horns, soul and synths combine, and it’s a good old slow-burnin’ jazzy dance tune, really.

The final couplet, ‘Raise Me Up’ and ‘True/False, Fake/Real’, kick off with Hegarty’s final tune, about his “secret love of the man” – a comment on homosexuality, or conformity? – helps build up the second side to the heights of the first, with another massive, and I mean massive, disco stomper. All the hallmarks of Butler’s sound are here: the bubbling bass lines, pinging and squelchy synths, some mild horn work, and of course, Goldsworthy’s beats. Whilst not the cutting edge in terms of twitchy complex noise, his drum work and programming are far more dancefloor friendly, and in these times of ‘universal brouhaha’ (as the great Tom Lehrer would have said), some good old fashioned funky stompers ought to be welcome in any DJ’s box.

That last song, with a big old four to the floor beat, crooning ladies (Foxman in this case) and quite a minimal instumental palette tip a nod and a wink to the whole minimal electro thing, but this still, for all it’s mathematical precision, still has groove, still has something to swing the hips and shake booties to. Just when you can’t ask for much more, 60s spy movie style strings build up to a lovely little release, and then it all goes mental.

Disco isn’t dead. Nutters in New York are going beserk to this, it’s high time we all did too.

8/10

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