Disco beats and poppy lyrics are replaced by something more rootsy, abrasive, and confrontational on Andy Butler’s latest
Hercules And Love Affair always was a more flexible project than most, its only permanent member being Andy Butler, and so it proves with In Amber. Gone are the disco beats and poppy lyrics, and in their place is something more rootsy, abrasive, and confrontational.
Longtime affiliate Anohni contributes her evocative vocals to about half of the album’s songs, including the poetically defiant Christian Prayers and the snarling Contempt For You (“this body is a place / that has never been loved / sure, I’m glad I survived / but I’ve got nothing but contempt for you”). Meanwhile, the production is certainly striking at times, whether it be the distorted bass and glitchy coda of Killing His Family or the cascading piano ostinato of opening track Grace, though this isn’t enough to single-handedly drive the record and many tracks feel as if they worked better in theory than in execution.
The main issue that dogs this album is weak composition – few of the ideas are outright bad, but they don’t earn their runtime. Dissociation pairs gloomy chords with lyrics that are more literal than artful, and Who Will Save Us? meanders in its never-ending quest for a memorable topline – both songs have worthy subject matter that deserves better musical representation.
It is telling that One is the highlight of In Amber, as it aligns pretty closely with the sounds Hercules And Love Affair have previously mastered. A brittle bass sound marks out a syncopated pattern over housey drum machine grooves, as glacial pads add a subtly grandiose feel to the production. Anohni’s lyrics focus on transformation and overcoming adversity, while the repeated motif of “held down, head down” reflects the music’s minimal, propulsive aesthetic, a crucial reminder that a song needn’t be tedious to have a message.