Leave it to a gay man who reportedly produces in the nude to come up with the best dance music album of 2008. While all the other techno dorks were busy working the laptop track assembly line, NYC producer Andrew Butler took the road less traveled, focusing on "proper" music rather than the dated futurism of bleeps and bloops. Granted, Butler's approach might be totally repellent to dance minimalists (session musicians? horns? song arrangement? what is this... Dream Theater?), but Hercules and Love Affair arrives as a much-needed kick in the head: House music hasn't sounded this alive in well over a decade.
The similarities between Hercules and Love Affair and Arthur Russell's Loose Joints–era disco production have been commented on ad nauseam, but this record is no simple homage. DFA coproducer Tim Goldsworthy may jack drums from old records left and right, but the success of these songs has everything to do with how Butler takes his influences and runs in a totally opposite direction. Like on "Athene," which uses almost every classic disco cliché, but packs in more subtle change-ups and bridges than a Yes song. Or "Easy," the Spartan martial chant that reconfigures Antony Hegarty's androgynous croon into a slow-rising, multitracked outburst. If these tracks were supposed to be Loose Joints rip-offs, then Butler's vision of the past is skewed enough to be a creative force unto itself.
The lead singer on "You Belong," Nomi Ruiz, was recently quoted as saying she never listened to disco—she heard this project as "futuristic, mainstream electronic pop." That's certainly a broad way of looking at it, but the sentiment captures part of what makes Hercules and Love Affair so good. If this record draws faithfully from 30 years of dance lessons learned, even the musicians involved were convinced otherwise.
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