Hercules & Love Affair

Blue Songs

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On Blue Songs, the lineup of Andy Butler's Hercules & Love Affair is filled out with stable member Kim Ann Foxman, Mark Pistel (Consolidated, Meat Beat Manifesto), Shaun J. Wright, and Aerea Negrot, while several others -- including co-producer Patrick Pulsinger and well-suited guest vocalist Kele Okereke -- also contribute. The album, as indicated by its title, is subdued compared to the group’s self-titled full-length from 2008. Even the busier, uptempo songs seem intended for home listening rather than club play; they’re relatively slender and tickle the ears rather than grab the whole body like “Blind.” This allows the group’s pop element, somewhat overlooked on the debut, to shine through a little more, best heard in the spongy, rippling “Leonora.” Some listeners might be so thrown that they’ll have to take a considerable portion of the album, including the partially acoustic, wholly atmospheric ballad “Boy Blue,” as the work of a completely different group. While it might carry the punch of the debut and ends on a bum note (where Sterling Void's 1989 house classic “It’s Alright” is recast as a placid ballad), Blue Songs is an excellent album in its own right. It's filled with memorable, exceptionally played and produced electronic pop songs that are off-center yet targeted squarely at the heart. [The U.S. version adds three bonus tracks, including a cover of the xx's "Shelter," as well as a second disc of remixes.]

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