Hercules & Love Affair Works To Reinvent & Experiment Via ‘In Amber’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

When Andy Butler released his self-titled debut as Hercules & Love Affair back n 2008, it was met with critical acclaim, partly because Butler’s disco revival pastiche was somehow ahead of its time, but mostly because collaborator Anohni was in the midst of her creative peak. “Blind” topped plenty of critical lists at the end of the year, and as great as Butler is, it’s hard not to admit that Anohni’s transition from steely art-rock crooner to dance-floor frontman was more compelling. Since then, Anohni has been reliably consistent, even with her scant output, and Butler has been just as consistently hit or miss. A full-length reunion from both artists was heavily anticipated, but the result is not exactly what was expected.

On Hercules & Love Affair, Anohni transformed herself into something vibrant and arresting, but on In Amber, it’s Butler who’s changing it up. “One” could easily have been pulled off the last Anohni album and even when they’re evoking Mark Hollis, it comes across more as Spirit of Eden than It’s My Life. Even though they co-wrote it, the themes of disenfranchisement, patriarchal resentment, and pagan worship fall more consistently in line with Anohni than Butler. Similarly, “Christian Prayers” pulls from many of the same thematic frustrations, but with Anohni clearly driving. So it is surprising that when she is limited to just the role of a co-producer, the album often thrives. “Disassociation” with its booming drama and orchestration, would have worked nicely with Anohni’s vocals but Elin Eythordsdottir gives a performance compelling enough to justify her appearance over one of the greatest singers of the last twenty years. 

In Amber is a dark record, one where even Budgie’s percussion is cloudy and where nearly everyone involved is willing to lean into the despair. It’s also overly self-serious, an album begging to be considered above its pretentions and to be analyzed as art. For the most part, it works. It works as a piece of baroque chamber art and it works like a flip side to Hercules & Love Affair, a testament to the pair’s virtuosity. Still, it’s frustrating that with so many talented musicians collaborating on this project, it can feel like a missed opportunity.

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