Hercules and Love Affair, “Omnion”

Hercules and Love Affair
Omnion
BIG BEAT/ATLANTIC
7/10

Amidst the bounty of electrifying new bands that emerged in the early aughts in New York City, Hercules and Love Affair seemed the least likely to be thriving more than a decade later. The “group” appeared more like a fabulous excuse for Andy Butler to organize his most outré friends and musical associates into an amorphous, weirdly glamorous, ambisexual dance party—which turned out to be an enormous amount of fun for anyone lucky enough to be invited.

Now in 2017, complete with a major label affiliation, there is a keen sense of their fourth full-length being a kind of grownup album steeped in grownup matters, including the matter of Butler’s evolution as an artist and impresario.

Who is the titular Omnion? It’s a question whose answer is not easily identified. But the air of mystery surely encourages repeated listens, as if joining a journey of discovery. Indeed, on the gentle, enigmatic title track, guest vocalist Sharon Van Etten implores, “Omnion, are you there? / Can you hear my voice tonight? / If I am your child / Why have you put so much in my life to fight?” In one way it seems quite a universal philosophical question, one especially suited to these aggressively divisive times, and the atmospheric synths, appropriately, give it a hymnlike quality.

Butler takes the vocal reins himself on “Fools Wear Crowns” (words which one could readily slap over a photo of Trump and Kim Jong-un). Here again he gets pointedly philosophical: “Fools suffer from magical thinking” followed by “I’m a fool when I’ve been drinking.” Don’t go searching for hidden metaphors—it is, in fact, actually about his struggles with sobriety. Fittingly for its subject matter, it’s also a complex track musically. Somber choral harmonies are layered over Kraftwerk-ian blips and bleeps, punctuated by dramatic strings, making for a decidedly moving whole.

But it’s not all moon and planets and somber reflection. The HorrorsFaris Badwan is summoned for vocal duties on “Controller,” which, with its plump synths and motorik underpinnings, is pure Construction Time Again–era Depeche Mode. The forceful singer plays it a little Dave Gahan, a little Bryan Ferry, and a lot of chill-inducing.

There are other highlights, including Belgian singer Gustaph’s turn on on “My Curse and Cure,” French singer Rouge Mary’s on “Rejoice,” and Badwan again on “Through Your Atmosphere.” It all shows Butler to have become the multi-faceted songwriter and profound expressionist he’d surely always meant to be—and that few probably imagined, back in 2004, that he would be.

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