Hercules & Love Affair: Omnion

- A decade isn’t a long time these days, it’s said that time speeds up as you approach an event horizon at the edge of a black hole, and it’s sobering to note that Omnion is Hercules and Love Affair’s fourth album in just under the decade and that their extraordinary self-titled debut was “way back” in 2008, featuring the striking single Blind with vocals from ANOHNI, Other collaborators, such as Nomi Ruiz, made Andy Butler’s dance music ensemble the hottest thing that side of the Global Financial Crisis.

“Times change and we change with the times” is another maxim, and Butler’s progression as a master compiler of sexy, deep grooves with a “just right” vocalist fits that saying. At first, American-born Butler added a different dimension to the sounds coming out of New York where he was based and developing a more “English” sound to his work, served to cut him as a figure to be noticed and respected. The following albums Blue Songs and Feast of the Broken Heart moved in a forward, if different direction, by dint of the collaborators, such as Kele Okereke of Bloc Party on the former and then John Grant and Rogue Mary on the latter. Also, Butler was recording in different parts of the world – San Francisco, Vienna and Berlin – which influenced the direction of his retro-ish, yet, fresh take on house and disco. Now a resident of Ghent in Belgium, Butler’s current iteration of Hercules and Love Affair has much to recommend.

Opening with an almost hymn like title track, with vocals by the estimable Sharon Van Etten, the beat of the album is firmly stamped with Faris Badwan (Horrors) channelling Soft Cell’s Marc Almond  to perfection on Controller. Moving strongly into the first half of the album is a real diva anthem Rejoice with the only returning collaborator, the theatrical Rouge Mary (who pops up on Wild Child, another powerhouse anthem) and then a real surprise, and possibly the standout track of the album, Are You Still Certain?, with Lebanese alt-rock band Mashrou’ Leila bringing a heady Levantine flavour to Butler’s beats. 

To prove that by being based in the mid-ish part of Europe he can draw on both sides of the continent’s expanse, Butler connects with Icelandic sisters Sisy Ey which is as much a blend of northern European indi-dance-pop as the Mashrou’ Leila track draws in sultry Arabic influences. The other collaborator, who contributes three vocal tracks, is Gustaph. Bringing the aching, plaintive cry of a voice that is as sharp as a whiff of ammonia on a bright winter’s morning, their first vocal track, Lies, sounds like it comes right out of the back catalogue of one of Butler’s musical heroes – Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Erasure) there’s more than a touch of that point in the late 80s when Nu-Romantic/Electro Pop met the burgeoning house sounds coming out of Chicago at the hands of the late Frankie Knuckles. 

The one completely left field track is right in the middle of the album, Fools Wear Crowns, has Butler himself contributing the vocals, a soft, almost gentle confession style of voice, that wobbles with the emotion expressed in the lyrics, as he unburdens himself of the previous half dozen years of alcohol and substance abuse, which lead to his relocation in the much more sedate but highly creative space of Ghent. Faris Badwan offers the penultimate track Through Your Atmosphere which kicks off with the lyric, “I can’t live in a world that won’t stay in place” that is pure Neil Tennant. 
Omnion doesn’t eclipse the work Butler and friends did a decade ago, however, it assures the listener that the next decade should bring some rich pickings to savour.

- Blair Martin.

 

Album Details

Album Title: Omnion
Artist: Hercules & Love Affair
Record Label: (So Solid)