ALBUM REVIEW: Hercules & Love Affair – Blue Songs

With Blue Songs will either.


Hercules & Love Affair - "Painted Eyes" (Radio Edit) (MP3)

Despite his chosen moniker, Andy Butler is more a Sisyphus than a Hercules. After two years of work, he has put out an album that is sure to whittle down his already modest fanbase. Unlike Robyn, another artist whose sophisticated dance music deserves to be more popular than it is, but who has at least found an intense cult following in the gay community, Hercules and Love Affair is not only too gay to appeal to a mainstream dance floor, but also too oddball to appeal to a gay one. With Blue Songs, Butler has written an album sure to make a certain subset of music critics and Brooklynites very happy. But if a song like “Blind” off of Hercules and Love Affair couldn’t break Butler out, nothing on Blue Songs will either.

DJ-cum-vocalist Kim Ann Foxman is the only debut-album alum on Blue Songs. Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons) and Nu-disco singer Nomi Ruiz, who largely defined the sound Hercules and Love Affair, are absent. Butler has always planned on keeping Hercules and Love Affair an entity with a rotating cast of vocalists. Venezuelan singer/producer Aerea Negrot and H&LA-superfan Shaun Wright do the heavy lifting this time around, with Foxman and Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke thrown in sparingly. As such, Blue Songs has a completely different vocal timbre.

Yet Blue Songs is unmistakably a Hercules and Love Affair album. As he did on Hercules and Love Affair, Butler borrows from recognizable elements of past dance eras and transforms them into a whole new genre. While he still mines 70s disco – from the bright horns on “Painted Eyes” and “Falling” to the pumping bass line of “Answers Come in Dreams” – Blue Songs leaps a decade into the future, from Philly to Chicago, and heavily references late-80s/early-90s house music.

Forget Paris, Williamsburg is burning on Blue Songs. These are songs for hipster drag queens (who exist, at least in New York City) to vogue to at sweaty drag balls (which still exist, also in New York City). The melancholy implied by the album’s title is total misdirection. Yes, there are some quiet tracks on the album, but as a whole Blue Songs is as upbeat and Technicolor as the debut. The best of the bangers is “Falling,” which sounds like an upside-down sequel to “Raise Me Up.” Shaun Wright is no Antony, but his regal voice is forceful and it manages to further propel an already propulsive track. “Visitor,” a Negrot-lead track, is another standout. She sings “I am not a visitor,” but her sultry accent betrays her and communicates pure exotica, not to mention erotica, instead.

Where Hercules and Love Affair had the epic “Blind” as its centerpiece, Blue Songs is anchored by two ballads, “Boy Blue” and “Blue Song.” Butler has flirted with the ballad before (see “Iris”), but he has never recorded anything as hushed and lovely as these two tracks. “Boy Blue” is almost completely acoustic, with guitar, flute, and muted trumpet providing the background for an open-throated Wright vocal. “Blue Song,” which Butler notably sings on, is dreamy and ethereal: crickets chirp, the polyrhythm of the percussion saunters, and an impressionistic clarinet evokes the spare soundtrack to a modernist play. At first, these tracks seem to interrupt the flow of what is ostensibly a party record. But with repeated listens, it becomes clear that they’re meant to provide a respite, a wiping of the brow, before the album launches into the shenanigans that follow.

If Blue Songs doesn’t live up to Hercules and Love Affair – and it doesn’t – it’s only because the standard set by the latter is unreasonably high. That said, Blue Songs confirms Butler’s artistic stature. His marvelous debut wasn’t a fluke. Andy Butler is indeed a prodigious talent, even if few will notice or care.

Hercules & Love Affair - Blue Songs

Originally published on January 24th. Reposted for the album's US release.