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Hercules and Love Affair anything but pretentious

By Kyle Barnhart     5/15/08 7:00pm

Eponymous albums with Internet buzz are hot right now: First Vampire Weekend, and now the new self-titled LP from Hercules and Love Affair. The latter has been touted as a "reinvention of disco," which is sort of like reinventing New Coke or trench warfare or anything else that sucked, then died. H&LA is signed under DFA Records - the label behind !!! and LCD Soundsystem - and DFA has been known to straddle the fine line between cool and pretentious music. Doesn't it already sound like an album you won't understand?Luckily for the listeners, Hercules and Love Affair is an album that transcends the pretentious attitude of anything with a dance beat. It's everything you love about subtle bass guitar and drums fused with semi-androgynous, powerful vocals and an element of atmosphere that can only be described as, well, mythical.

Hercules and Love Affair is headed up by New York DJ Andrew Butler, whose house music influences are apparent, but not overpowering, throughout their album. The first track, "Time Will," begins with deep, resonating vocals that search out a warm atmosphere before giving way to the familiar kick of a bass drum and hi-hat. The vocals find their place and break from the beat before becoming too familiar. Then, without warning, the album swerves into a seemingly random assortment of horns piercing through a soft choir and a more pervasive drum track on "Hercules Theme." The interplay between tracks is more akin to the seamless nature of club music than to rock or anything else. And that's a good thing.

Like any good piece of holistic music, Hercules and Love Affair seems to build in anticipation as the tracks press onward. The first notable climax happens midway through the album when "Blind" takes the subtle bass guitar into overdrive and brings the dance influence into the spotlight. The vocals shift from ear candy into catchy lyrics crooned with androgynous power. A double-edged sword, "Blind" also makes a pretty strong case for comparisons between H&LA and the disco movement of the late 1970s. While catchy lyrics behind dance beats and playful bass are common to both, Hercules and Love Affair distance themselves from disco by avoiding self-indulgence and never staying in one place for too long. "Blind" and its intensity immediately give way to mellow cooldowns in "Iris" and "Easy."

The last tracks of the album leave a trademark DFA taste in the listener's mouth. By the time "Raise Me Up" finishes, one wonders if James Murphy was hiding in the studio, injecting the chime-like keyboard tracks from LCD Soundsystem's last album into the mix. That's hardly a bad thing, either, since the album is constantly moving from familiar to unfamiliar and back again. There is a certain chaotic beauty in "True False/Fake Real" which closes the album with a very un-borrowed, modern sound that leans on sound effects, violins, synthesizers and the kitchen sink. Throughout the chaos of the last track, the familiar bass guitar serves as a reminder to tie everything together; every track is unique, yet possesses some quality that links it back to the beginning of the album.

Accessibility should be appreciated in a time when good music is trying its damnedest to be obtuse. Hercules and Love Affair, with all its familiar territory stomped with a new sense of independence, isn't styled for the likes of the chain-smoking, avant-garde hipsters that you associate with this sort of unique sound; it's actually just good music for everyone.

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