- In 2001 and 2002, New York-based label DFA (alongside Output and, in a way, Gigolo) was on a roll in term of redefining underground dance music with a so-called “indie” twist—DFA with its own unlikely scene leader in James Murphy and a federative anthem in ‘Losing My Edge’. In other words, DFA defined cool, and, with albums by LCD Soundsystem, The Juan Maclean and The Rapture, it had it all. In the past two years or so, though, it seems the label has had troubles igniting the same kind of passion ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’, ‘House of Jealous Lovers’, or ‘You Can’t Have it Both Ways’ used to engender, and obtuse releases from Delia Gonzales & Gavin Russom (bar that ubiquitous C2 remix) and the painful Black Dice, or anecdotal Pylon re-issues, haven't done anything to truly help revive the label’s credentials.
Recent months, however, have seen a series of refreshing 12-inches from new signings Still Going, Holy Ghost, Shit Robot, Shocking Pinks, and Syclops appear on the label, and you can really tell someone at the DFA A&R office is in the mood for more immediate actual songs with both structure and dancefloor appeal. Nowhere is this renewed vision and clarified direction better articulated than with newcomer Andrew Butler’s dazzling Hercules & Love Affair project.
Out of nowhere, really, Hercules popped up on the scene about a year ago with ‘Classique #2/Roar’. The A-side appeared on Tim Sweeney’s RA podcast at the time, and even though there was an instantly familiar old-school acidic vibe about it, ‘Classique #2’ also felt like it defied time, conventions, BPMs, and sub-genres altogether. Sadly, it is not included on here on Hercules’s eponymous first album, but you shouldn’t hold it against Butler because he sure knows how to make it up to you.
For instance, theatrical album opener ‘Time Will’ and upcoming Inner City-like single ‘You Belong’ both use Anthony Hagerty’s slightly histrionic vocals to great effect: full-on seducing mode on the former, masterfully intertwined with Butler’s own for the latter. In both cases, though, this is dance music for both your ears and your feet, which is a rare treat indeed. As for first single ‘Blind’, which you all know already in all its grandeur, well, it is unlikely you’ll hear something more uplifting and heart-stopping in forthcoming months, and its “To see you now, to hear you now, I can look outside myself” vocal at its climax is truly the album’s apex.
There is also a subtle air of melancholia tainting the entire record, which only strengthens its feel. ‘Athena’ and ‘Easy’, for instance, are slower, captivating moments of studio experimentalism that bring a welcome release of tension, while ‘This Is My Love’ and ‘Raise Me Up’ are mid-tempo numbers you could actually cry to if you really wanted to. Overall, the album has no Achilles’ heel (geddit?), no low point, only kaleidoscopic songwriting filled with wit, passion, and genuine sentiment.
Above all, the songs reunited on here never feel superfluous—the entire album was obviously well thought out, and closing number ‘True False Fake Real’, which is an homage to The Muppets Show band (!), is silly yet exhilaratingly happy, possessing the same fuck-off attitude seen on recent Syclops or Shocking Pinks releases for the label. For all these reasons, Hercules & Love Affair is an uncommon and unparalleled affair. In fact, rarely has an American dance music long player been so in touch with the country’s own often forgotten house and underground disco past while sounding yet so current, welcoming, and universal. Butler’s upfront admiration for genre luminaries such as Frankie Knuckles, Arthur Russell, Kevin Saunderson, or even Morgan Geist is no mere redundancy, though: you can hear real and brilliant bedroom craftsmanship all over the album’s ten cuts, while Tim Goldsworthy’s final production lends it an engagingly live feel (already enhanced by actual drums, celestial strings, and complex horn arrangements).
In short, then, on top of showcasing one truly original voice on the present-day US dance scene and being the label’s most preeminent recent recruit, Hercules & Love Affair makes DFA’s past and future painfully clear: cheerfully unpredictable, brightly visionary, and still far away from losing its edge.
01 Time Will
02 Hercules Theme
03 You Belong
08 This Is My Love
09 Raise Me Up
10 True False/Fake Real