Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Hercules and Love Affair - Hercules and Love Affair

Hercules and Love Affair

Hercules and Love Affair
DFA Records.

SCQ Rating: 80%

It’s curious to me how most people choose to illustrate the definition of ‘friendly competition’ by listing off brands for consumption. “You know, like, Coke VS Pepsi…” is likely the most common example, but for those born and neglected in the early 80s, the live-or-die-by competition was Sega Genesis and Nintendo. You knew what kids on the playground owned which systems, and more importantly, you had a fundamental belief in one system’s reign over the other. The idea of ‘friendly competition’ came back to me when listening to the entrancing maturity of Hercules and Love Affair, a record that shares much of the same crossover potential that made Sound of Silver such a rousing success for DFA last year. Anyway, if DFA was Sega Genesis, then LCD Soundsystem was Sonic the Hedgehog…; the flagship that gave DFA global notoriety but stood so far ahead of his peers, James Murphy started to look like the label misfit for being recognizable. And as anyone in their mid twenties knows, Sega went south because you need more than one successful title to make a system worthwhile. So all hail Hercules and Love Affair, an ensemble led by Andrew Butler who has emerged to raise the stakes (and maybe relieve the majority of DFA’s roster still treading water... c'mon Juan Maclean, where are you?).

It doesn’t take a long, hard look in the mirror to see why I scooped up the import-priced Hercules and Love Affair nearly two months ago. Truth is, no mention of disco, DFA head-honcho Tim Goldsworthy on the beats, or the incredible press that has followed could sell me on this album like Antony Hegarty did. One of my most exciting musical moments of 2008 has been hearing the man’s impeccable voice, used almost synonymously with quiet piano ballads, erupt over a burly disco bass and drum kicks; ‘Blind’ is truly one of those songs that knocks the wind out of you for the sake of appreciating that first desperate breath of air again. And in many ways, Hercules and Love Affair belongs to Antony, who’s pipes carry many of these songs from enjoyable club fare into classic dance territory.

For an album that adheres to so many of disco’s prime principles, I find it exciting to note that they’ve steered clear of disco’s great weakness: excess. While such a wide array of vocal contributors could’ve been the smoke and mirrors to disguise recycled ideas, Butler never disappoints with songwriting that should, with any justice, lend his name to the ranks of dance music’s contemporary elite. His arrangements, equipped with Goldsworthy on drum patterns and a full-on funky brass section, ensure that each song - even those that lack a sensational finish - are exciting to listen to. Additional vocalist Kim Ann Foxman (who may be/sounds exactly like I Am the World Trade Center) lends an essential but muted presence in several key songs, ‘Athene’ and the comedown highlight, ‘Iris’. If the record has a fault, it’s in the sequencing, which finds the latter half struggling to keep up with an absurdly wonderful first half.

That “Coke VS Pepsi” example is worth revisiting, however, as myth has it Pepsi was invented to rival Coke by John Pemberton, the same man who invented Coke. What? Yes… after all, when you stumble onto a winning ticket and patent it, why not beat your potential rip-off artists to the punch? This useless piece of fraudulent trivia isn’t meant to imply that Hercules and Love Affair have much of anything, beyond critical success, in common with LCD Soundsystem; in fact, quite the opposite. With this debut, DFA have found themselves home to a new generation of Massive Attack, an emotionally aware group of artists on the cutting edge of a growing sexual revolution. Their influences may be decades old, but their message is assuredly progressive. That indie fans are flocking to this album in the same fashion as they did to LCD’s old-school impertinence is an unexpected but important achievement for DFA; a label that suddenly appears insidiously multifaceted.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

impatience! no US-only bonus tracks for you...