Thursday, February 03, 2011

Painted Eyes

Song:  Painted Eyes
Artist: Hercules and Love Affair
Album: Blue Songs

Hercules and Love Affair's 2008 self-titled debut ranked as one of my favorites of that year with their single, "Blind" being one of my favorite tracks of that year and several before and since.  A 70's disco throwback that also recalled late 80's house and something quite new and exciting.  New York-based DJ Andy Butler called the group a "project," pulling in a variety of vocalist, producers and musicians, most notably DFA producer Tim Goldsworthy and vocalist Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons.  I've been eager to hear a follow-up, and the sophomore set, "Blue Songs," was just released this Monday.

I heard first single "My House," a couple months back and was slightly underwhelmed.  It didn't have near the urgency of "Blind," nor the hooks, and while "Blind" seemed retro AND forward-thinking at the same time, "My House" just felt retro.  But it is now clear, upon hearing all of "Blue Songs," that there is a lesson in managing expectations here.  It's not really the same Hercules and Love Affair of their debut, and this 2.0 version has a different M.O.

This time around, Butler has teamed up with producer Mark Pistel, best known for his work with Disposable Heroes of Hipocracy, and Industrial heroes of the past Consolidated and Meat Beat Manifesto as well as producer Patrick Pulsinger.  Also new are vocalists Aerea Negrot and Shauwn Wright.  Now admittedly, nobody wants to be compared to Antony Hegarty because... NOBODY sounds like Antony, but I'm not really feeling the two new vocalists as they also don't hold up to the work of Nomi Ruiz from the debut.  But again, Butler has always noted that HLA were a "project," so this new band of collaborators, and shift in sound, should be pretty expected.

"Blue Songs" really goes for the late 80's House vibe and is culminated within the first single.  Despite initially sounding dated, "My House" does come alive on the album.  (Check out the equally retro video below.) A deep beat and fly buzzing noises start the track and soon make way for some soulful vocals that make the chorus sing.  "But my house is in order" sings Shaun Wright, a clever pun that seems like it should have been done before this.  I'm liking this more and more, despite it not holding a candle to "Blind."

I also like the moody, dark, opening track "Painted Eyes" that utilizes the strings found also on "Blind."  Their use could possibly be the segue from the sound of the first record to this set.  I'm not sure what Butler was thinking with "Boy Blue," which comes in halfway and almost drags the album to a complete halt.  It's followed by the also slow"Blue Song," but it's a bit of an improvement... a great early AM chill out track.  Things pick back up with "Falling," a chugging disco stomp that twirls with the best of them.

The last couple tracks pick things up and upon my third listen I'm starting to think less about the debut and more about "Blue Sings" itself.  So this one may require some good patience to get into.  Though, if you know nothing of Hercules, and are HUGE into late-80's/90's House... this record may be a revelation.  It all ends with an oddly limp cover of Sterling Void's "It's All Right" made more famous by the Pet Shop Boys version, "It's Alright."  It's a dramatic and slightly off-putting closer that sort of fits with how you feel when first digesting "Blue Songs."

But this one might be a grower.


Painted Eyes

My House


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