A change of label and sound for the New York based Hercules and Love Affair with their new album Blue Songs, one would think, would be as good as a rest. Gone is the formidable spectre of Antony Hegarty which hovered over their debut, and all the connotations of being a “DFA” band (good and bad). Instead we have a collection of disparate, less imposing surprise guests, allowing the slinky vintage disco to develop into an overly confident mish mash of slinky piano house and driving bass beats, but perhaps allowing the ship to go astray a little too far.
Opener ‘Painted Eyes’ does not depart far from their bacchanalian debut. It’s a lush soundscape conjuring up images of nymphs and satyrs frolicking in misty woods with jazz flutes (maybe going a bit too far on the ancient Greek connections there) working up to a soaring disco-string finale. Disco flourishes aside, the stronger influence throughout is Chicago/early ’90s piano house, building on the previous flashes of this in their debut. ‘My House’ in particular is house-by-numbers, complete with repetitive synth and inane chorus. It’s done far better on ‘Step Up’, a nervy piano-flecked electro house number bolstered by Kele Okereke’s over-emotional delivery, and ‘I Can’t Wait’, which recalls acid house giants S’Express at their finest.
‘Answers Come in Dreams’ is a squelchy, funk laden romp, while ‘Falling’ is a natural descendant of ‘Blind’, a bonafide stomper with a horn-led chorus and classic disco overtures. The most surprising thing to find in Andy Butler’s musical memories, out of which H&LA are entirely crafted, is the Love-indebted ‘Blue Boy’, a stripped back palate cleanser amongst the dancefloor fodder. However, closing on ‘It’s Alright’, a disappointing cover, evokes the feeling of a bad come down on a dingy couch after a particularly rough party. In the tradition of their NY disco forefathers, these guys do big better, and subtle doesn’t wash it here. While they may never reach the glorious heights of ‘Blind’ again, listening to them try definitely makes a passable Saturday night soundtrack.