Nine years after “Blind,” when you look up Hercules & Love Affair on any streaming service, most of the top results are going to be “Blind” and various different remixes and edits of “Blind.” It’s not fair, but I get it. It makes sense. Over the past decade or so, Andy Butler has made a whole lot of powerful, euphoric music under his Hercules & Love Affair moniker. In particular, Hercules & Love Affair’s self-titled 2008 debut is an essential record from that era — a virtuosic pileup of all the house and disco currents that were swirling through New York around that time. But “Blind” looms colossal because it’s “Blind.” It’s still the greatest moment from Anohni, the one where she put the full expressive power of her scalpel-sharp voice into conveying simple tingling excitement. It’s a song about losing yourself, losing your perspective, in the endorphin-rush of bodies coming together, and that is a timeless sentiment. The music is a tidal wave of congas and synth-smears and rubber-band bass and horny horn-stabs. It sounds like the heavens opening up before you. Andy Butler might never make another song like “Blind,” and that’s OK, since nobody will. But on the new album Omnion, he comes close more than once.
“Blind” is really Hercules & Love Affair’s entire reason for being. Andy Butler had been making songs on his own, with no intention of releasing them, for a few years, but he finally decided to put “Blind” out there after Anohni became a critically acclaimed force. “Blind” came out, blew up, and got Butler a deal with the DFA label before he had any idea what was on his hands. Some people are built to handle buzz-band exposure, and Butler was not one of them. Butler wasn’t a band, anyway, though Hercules & Love Affair eventually became one over the years. Butler was one guy, an abuse survivor and recovering addict who’d never bargained for any sort of attention. Butler recently told Pitchfork about relapsing into addiction once he’d become indie-famous and about his long fight to get himself back above water. The two albums that Butler released in between that self-titled debut and Omnion had a few serious bangers, but they didn’t have the same sense of focus as that debut album. Maybe addiction had something to do with that; maybe not. But now that Butler is clean again, he’s made an album that sounds positively liberated, and it’s a total joy to hear.
Omnion isn’t an I’m-sober-now album, at least not most of the time. Butler only addresses his personal history on a few tracks. “Fools Wear Crowns” is one song on the album that he sings himself, and he’s said that it’s about that struggle. Where most of the singers he works with are demonstrative diva types, Butler himself sounds croaky and withdrawn. That voice conveys a lot, and the lyrics are simple and direct: “I’m a fool when I’ve been drinking / I’m glad that I didn’t today / It was foolish to lie here / To think I could wish all the clouds away.” And maybe “My Curse And Cure,” sung by longtime collaborator Gustaph, is about that same kind of recovery: “These broken bones / They hold me up / I put one foot in front of the other / It takes everything I’ve got.” But Omnion isn’t a message album, and most of it is just fun. For instance, “Controller,” the early single with vocals from the Horrors frontman Faris Badwan, is a spartan synth-house banger with lyrics that sure sound like they’re about S&M. And those lyrics aren’t bleak or seedy; they’re overyjoyed, totally liberated by the giving-up of control: “Take all of me! It’s all I want! / Because I love what you’re making me do!”
Maybe Omnion is Butler’s new-lease-on-life album, the sort of thing you make when you’ve realized that you’re OK. Maybe it’s an album about the holy-shit rush of surviving something that might’ve easily killed you. Because this whole album has an absolute fucking snap to it. Butler has always combined his all-out bangers with gooier, more introspective tracks; it’s one of the reasons his first album got a whole lot of Arthur Russell comparisons. But on Omnion, even the more expansive tracks still have a bounce to them. “Through Your Atmosphere,” a second collaboration with Faris Badwan, is a thoughtful song with a deadpan delivery, but it still has a powerful pulse. “Running” is full of impressionistic strings and bubbling synth percolations, but its sweet, impassioned vocal from Icelandic singer Sisy Ey gives it a welcoming R&B grace. While Sharon Van Etten, the album’s biggest-name guest, isn’t a human firework like Anohni, her honeyed-bourbon alto meshes beautifully with the rich, melodic production of the album’s title track. On “Are You Still Certain?,” Butler teams up with the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila; it’s a gentle, searching song sung entirely in Arabic, and it’s gorgeous.
But the album really crackles to life on the bangers. “Controller” is just nasty. It’s got the precise abandon of old-school Chicago techno and the squirmy intensity of prime Soft Cell, and those two things go well together. “My Curse And Cure” has the slick, self-assured, introspective swagger of mid-’90s Everything But the Girl. And maybe best of all is “Rejoice,” a swooping, crashing, exultant gospel-house anthem with a rip-shit-up vocal from regular collaborator Rouge Mary. Maybe “Rejoice” isn’t quite “Blind,” but it’s a whole hell of a lot closer than you or I will ever come. It’s one of those songs that can make you feel alive. Maybe Butler had to live through some bad things to come out with a song that crackles with that much life, or maybe he and his collaborators just caught fire in a recording studio one day. Either way, you really need to hear “Rejoice” — partly because it’s great, and partly because, if enough of us listen to it enough times, maybe “Blind” won’t always be the first five things that come up when you search streaming sites for Hercules & Love Affair.
Omnion is out 9/1 on Atlantic. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• LCD Soundsystem’s gorgeous, sad-eyed return American Dream.
• Mogwai’s slow-blooming post-rocker Every Country’s Sun.
• Madeline Kenney’s Toro Y Moi-produced debut Night Night At The First Landing.
• The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s twinkling indie-popper The Echo Of Pleasure.
• Neil Finn’s recorded-live-on-Facebook experiment Out Of Silence.
• Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s synthpop return The Punishment Of Luxury.
• Motörhead’s posthumous covers collection Under Covers.
• Quilt’s full-album cover of F.J. McMahon’s Spirit Of The Golden Juice.
• Daughter’s video game soundtrack Spirit Of The Golden Juice.
• The Knife’s live album Shaking The Habitual: Live At Terminal 5.
• Maneka’s Is You Is EP.