Andy Butler knows grooves. He’s the leader of a collective that specializes in the more classic forms of dance music and has studied 4/4 and underground house since adolescence. The first Hercules & Love Affair record cut an indie-wide swath across 2008 dancefloors with a steady flow of traditional disco-laced tactics. It might surprise you, then, that Butler & co.’s anticipated return runs short on so-called groovy material. Blue Songs is a slower, more stately um, affair. Which isn’t to say it’s any less moving as an experience of really catholic tastes.
Where the debut focused primarily on disco and its attendant festivity, Blue Songs expresses Butler’s, and to a great extent his collaborator Kim Ann Foxman’s, preoccupation with the vintage house sounds of the late ’80s and early ’90s. With that as a blueprint it’d be easy to expect jams, which makes “My House,” the first single, something of a genius pick. It’s a jam, no question, with wonderful little tech-house flourishes, a thoroughly vanquished vocal from newcomer Shawn Wright, and that mad video that’s all ashoot with warehouse-party mood and neon nostalgia. It’s the single of the year as far as I’m concerned but it’s a fakeout, because most of the rest of Blue Songs requires more patience than that.
“I will write the blue songs now” is an actual line from the title track, which also refers to said blue songs being sung in the temple. “My House” riffs on Scripture (“my house is in order“) and the subtle point made repeatedly is that clubgoing was always meant to be a pilgrimage, a kind of replacement faith. All those dislocated gospel-diva choruses from the first days of disco onwards were about queering the church, really, and the smokier sections of Blue Songs accomplish that with a slippery ease.
“Painted Eyes” plays with texture early, upping “Blind”‘s strings-ante with a lusher complement plus a dissonant bass-line that slows to a trickle. “Boy Blue” actually has guitar on it — sigh — and drafts of mariachi. “Leonora” is an odd trifle with rivers of piano, the less-housey kind, and “77 reasons to love you” — it’s a long tease, really, with dreamy recitations like “kiss me on the stairs” and a fleeting section of computer blippery that takes just enough of the sentimental edge off. It’s kind of fantastic.
There’s no Nomi or Antony here; vocals are by Foxman, Wright, and Bloc Party’s Kele, about whom it can still be safely said he can’t sing at all. Somehow his song, “Step Up” doesn’t fall apart, saved by the same kind of loping piano loop — way housey, this time — that drove “You Belong.”
“Answers Come In Dreams” is the single instance of pure disco and it’s spectacular. Otherwise it’s a more solemn register for Butler etc.; softer, mysterious tones prevail even in the upper tempos. None of this is to say that Blue Songs is not a party record to the extent of its predecessor; it sounds great in the foreground. But it’s a richer experience they’re going for and generally, it works in beautiful detail.
Metro Area – Miura
The Juan MacLean – The Future Will Come
Praxis – Turn Me Out