For most readers who frequent sites like Tiny Mix Tapes, the late-’70s/early-’80s was an era never experienced. We look back on those times as a fluffy, more innocent period of funny hairdos and sublime pop music without the irony that riddles our culture of the early 21st century. Shows like I Love the ’80s do nothing to dispel the image of a halcyon time of sweaty nightclubs, bodies crushed together until the break of dawn. But as Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency and AIDS wreaked its havoc, pop culture chose frivolity perhaps as a means of self-defense.
Today, Hercules and Love Affair, fronted by Andrew Butler and co-produced by DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy, attempt to mine that sound of an era deemed simultaneously hip and tacky with a modern LP. It is the second album this year -- Cut Copy’s In Ghost Colours being the first -- where Goldsworthy has taken the ’80s aesthetic and made it sound contemporary. While DFA vets LCD Soundsystem incorporate these textures with a wink, both Hercules and Cut Copy have put out faithful, earnest albums that celebrate, rather than re-contextualize, these beats and sounds from a lost epoch.
The album begins with “Time Will,” a strange amalgamation of disco and gay ballad. It is also one of the album’s strongest tracks, laying down a ballsy gamut for what’s to come. Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons fame) lends his beautiful pipes to this and a handful of other tracks throughout the album. In fact, these songs, including single “Blind,” act as the album’s backbone. Sure, Butler’s beats are contagious, and there is some mighty bass work throughout the album, but Hegarty is the star, rather ingénue here.
A few tracks do work well without Antony. “Hercules Theme” is a fistful of funk that incorporates arpeggio bass, a punchy horn section, and backup vocals that sound straight from a Labelle CD. Elsewhere, the raindrop-inflected beats of “Iris” prove that there is a moment for quiet introspection as well. It is much tighter than a lot of the other tracks here, as the brass section, beats, and synths mesh with Kim Ann Foxman’s delicate vocals into a hypnotic cool-down.
With turmoil in the Middle East, the possibility of a major recession, and another clueless Republican in the White House who refuses to acknowledge that the infrastructure of the country is rotting from the inside out, why not make an escapist record to dance along with, to forget our real life troubles? Yet as much joy as you can hear in Hercules and Love Affair, it's impossible to separate the melancholy from the mix. In one of my creative writing classes this year, my students and I did a free-write while listening to Antony’s “Hope There’s Someone.” All I could do was list names of people I knew who have passed from AIDS. This same sadness pervades Hercules and Love Affair. Dancing to forget reality; dancing to forget pain.