Album Review: Hercules & Love Affair - The Feast of the Broken Heart

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

Maybe it's just me, but there seems to be a phenomenally awesome trend happening right now where dance bands are accompanying thumping tracks with a lyrical message of higher understanding and deeper self-knowing. Last fall, Cut Copy gave us Free Your Mind, a record musically inspired by rave culture godfathers like the Happy Mondays that offered a brilliantly freeing message throughout, looking beyond the chains of the future and making the most of every day. Far beyond the plur dogma of the dance floor and higher up into the clouds above, dance bands like Cut Copy have been taking it to the next level this year, and stepping right in time to that four to the floor beat is one of nu-disco's most prominent names: Andy Butler. Butler and his work as Hercules & Love Affair seems to shake the foundations of the nu-disco scene with every record. From the unabashedly individualistic eponymous debut to the house-heavy color waves of Blue Songs, Butler has never been one to sacrifice a larger message for pop accessibility. But with new record The Feast of the Broken Heart, Butler goes deeper than ever for a Chicago-flavored collection of solid gold burners. This time around, his vocal team of Gustaph and Rouge Mary is joined by KEXP favorite John Grant. If the combination sounds like a match made in house heaven, it's because it absolutely is. Butler and friends give us the best Hercules & Love Affair record yet.

As whimsical as the cover art may seem, the message conveyed is one that long time Hercules listeners will know well: the struggles of being primitive, carnal beings in a world of delicate hearts. On Feast, broken-heartedness yields itself to a desire for deeper knowledge of love and self-love, and thus, the characters we meet find themselves heading back onto the battlefield of love armed with a deeper understanding of themselves. On "My Offence", UK singer Krystal Warren refuses to let a sexist landscape define her individuality. "I'm your mother, your daughter, your sister, your wife", Warren sings over a pounding disco break, relating a sense of personalization to an animalistic crowd of cavemen. The track is empowering and altogether a sing-a-long - it's a track guaranteed to brighten the dance floor and its accompanying undertones. John Grant keeps that energy moving forward on "I Try To Talk To You", an introspective dance jam that sees him trying to push a relationship forward with painstaking baby steps. Miscommunicated intention and lack of communication both spell danger, while Grant tries to work forward with well placed action.

We get a glimpse back at classic Hercules & Love Affair with "5:43 to Freedom". The track is classic Butler gold, oozing with disco finesse and house perfection, while the lyrics make for a brilliant halfway point on the album's journey. A conversation between two women sees them describing someone across the way, tossing out a multitude of discriminatory labels before Rouge Mary comes in with the "be yourself" anthem of the year. The track could fit in right next to "Athene" or "Iris" from the first record, but it's especially at home here aside a bit more Chicago house influence.

As the album heads into home plate, Butler pulls out all the stops. John Grant returns on "Liberty", which may very well be the best track on the album. The track is Butler's most club-ready offering on Feast, dancing around empty space and minimalism in brilliant ways, while Grant croons a sultry line that puts goosebumps on your arms within seconds. "You don't have to explain", he belts out, letting a lover sink into the mystery of the shadow with an outstretched hand. Then, Feast lead single "Do You Feel The Same?" burns forward towards the finish line with merciless house firepower. But Butler switches things up on the album's closer. "The Key" hints at the recent works of Basement Jaxx among others, backing away from the house and disco vibes to hone in on a more driving electronic groove. The song starts out reserved, but the groove slowly worms its way into your heart with ease. "Give in to love", Rouge Mary sings - you'd be a fool not to dive in head first.

Andy Butler has always been a master of the dance floor, and nothing's changed since his last LP or his fantastic DJ-Kicks set. But accompanying his production with an excellent collection of broken-hearted love songs for progressives, The Feast of the Broken Heart is a disco wonder for which you cannot ignore the lyrics. John Grant's help here is much appreciated and impossible to pass up. Now, if only he toured with Butler on the next Hercules tour, that would be one hell of a time. But for now, Feast is more than enough to soundtrack our dreams and remind us that danceable fun and lasting personal development are not strictly exclusive.

The Feast of the Broken Heart is out now on Moshi Moshi. If you want to hear more, check out the rest of the album over on the Hercules & Love Affair Youtube channel.

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