Tag Archives: dance

Hot Chip — Flutes

“One day you might realise / That you might need to open your eyes.”

We know a fair bit about Hot Chip‘s love of wonky, garage, and house. We know this from songs like “Don’t Dance”, “Bendable Poseable” and “We Have Love”, and we know this from Joe Goddard’s various side-projects, like The 2 Bears. On Hot Chip’s last album, One Life Stand, they sounded sometimes exhilarating, frequently lovestruck, and occasionally like they were sweatily getting down on the dancefloor. But they never conjured up all these moods at the same time.

Until now.

Our first taste of what Hot Chip in 2012 sounds like comes via “Flutes” (see above, in a head-spinning in-studio video). At once euphoric and romantic—perhaps that’s a symptom of the cheesy cut-up vocal sample, overlaid with warm analogue bass and chords—the song builds and builds, taking on new and exciting layers of vocals, synths both arpeggiated and wailing, and pulsating percussion. It’s like a carnival, walking through a renewal of one’s marital vows.

That this marathon workout never collapses or feels like it’s treading ground is evidence of Hot Chip’s maturity as songwriters, which has progressed even further since One Life Stand. On that album, they constructed sweet pop songs with interesting production and instrumentation; on “Flutes”, they’re pushing the boundaries of pop music, with a composition that travels round the world and is still back home in time for supper. The roly-poly electric piano finale is the icing on the cake.

The effect is like putting Joe Goddard’s “Gabriel“, itself a modern classic, on steroids. And it bodes super-well for the rest of the album, In Your Heads, which drops in early June.

Advertisements

Azari and me

We like to pour scorn on artists who are propelled onto the cover of the NME without so much as a single to show for. A few scrappy gigs with celebrities spotted; assiduously applied kohl; the requisite rags of the day—it seems like there’s a set of characteristics we look for in our starlets.

Stick to the shadows, and you’re usually ignored. But occasionally, leaving everything to the imagination can be a boon, as in the case of Azari & III, an elusive foursome from Toronto who make house music that sounds like it’s beamed in from a different decade. At once futuristic yet revivalist, they’ve got their hands in the air like they just don’t care, one finger permanently perched over the “klaxon” button, and a pair of outlandish divas at the microphone to rival anyone Andy Butler ropes in to Hercules And Love Affair. Although their media appearances are scarce; their name, troublesome, it is possible to mentally assemble a reasonably accurate image of the group, so visual are the connotations of their sound.

Though their debut album, which is supposed to see the light of day pretty soon, is intended to dispel notions of the outfit being a one-trick pony, what we have heard from them to date is pure, almost naïve, house music. In an interview with Lev Harris of the Quietus, Azari & III’s Christian (stage name: Dinamo Azari), explained the genre’s appeal.

“House is a freedom of expression. There’s no like ‘you have to sing about this or that’, it’s more open, it’s ghetto, it’s classy…”

This openness is fully on display in what, for me, is their standout track, “Reckless With Your Love” (see above). There’s a joyful abandon to the music—it’s there in the playful bounce of the bass line, and the elasticity of the synthesizer that doubles up the melody—and an unashamedly context-free nature to the lyrics, which are sung with a tuneful fury that mimics the move-busting of revellers. In the final two minutes of the song, the intensity is ramped up courtesy of overindulgently stacked vocals in perfect harmony, booming out the title phrase. It’s camp and ridiculous, the way every syllable is lovingly stretched out into a million shapes. The nearest comparison I could make is to the refracted multiplicity of vocals that shimmer through the closing minutes of Hercules And Love Affair’s “You Belong“. In that song, the thrill is in the competing qualities of the two singers’ voices: the lush smoothness of Nomi Ruiz, versus the granular soul of Antony Hegarty. In “Reckless With Your Love”, it is the homogeneity of vocalist Cedric’s harmonies which is so dazzling.

The other song by Azari & III which charmed me with its playfulness is “Hungry For The Power“—an older track, and one which showcases the group’s two vocalists. Atop relentless 808 cowbells and occasional swells of what I geekily recognise  as a Sequential Circuits Prophet V, we get Fritz’s unnaturally low-pitched growl, interspersed with Cedric’s more typical house voice, drifting in and out of time, drenched in digital reverb. The ruthless efficacy of the song is at odds with the [spoiler alert!] primal, cannibalistic video, but “Hungry For The Power” is exactly what the doctor orders, when faced with a patient in need of a hedonistic groove.

Friendly Fires teamed up with Azari & III for the centrepiece of their Bugged Out! mix, Suck My Deck. The resulting collaboration, “Stay Here“, ends up channelling more of Azari’s chunky house goodness than the light-touch approach favoured by the St. Albans trio. There is a thumping and clattering beat, over which we get polyphonic stabs from a Prophet, and Cedric’s endlessly repeatable diva-thing ends up overshadowing Ed Macfarlane’s ghostly contribution. Meanwhile, Fritz steals the song’s bridge with a gravelly spoken-word segment that segues beautifully into the final segment.

But Friendly Fires end up preserving the mystery of Azari & III. Their schtick is predictable at this point in their career, but it is still beguiling: the soulful character of the voices, fronting essentially ego-less music. Throw on one of their singles, turn off the lights, and pretend you’re the centre of everyone’s attention.

Friendly Fires — Pala

I suppose it takes a certain kind of musician to turn their back on critical acclaim, much of which has applauded you for bringing DFA-style grooves to the outskirts of the M25, and decide instead to make an album that’s intended to sound like the work of a polished 1990s boy band.

Well, Friendly Fires have done just that, making their second album, Pala, a sometimes frustrating listen for older fans of the band—though it isn’t likely to hurt the St. Albans trio’s commercial prospects. Continue reading Friendly Fires — Pala

Love Affair with Hercules

My love of Fabriclive.36 has got me into trouble before – apparently it’s not appropriate to like both Gang of Four and also Daniel Wang. This hasn’t put me off owning up to being unabashedly besotted with Hercules and Love Affair, a disco-revivalist collective who I tipped for wider fame back in 2007, when I first heard their debut single, “Classique #2”. It was b/w “Roar”, and I almost instantly recognised the vocal stylings of Antony Hegarty, which were woven into the fabric of the track. A year later, their self-titled debut hit the shelves and I think I was proved right. Shame that my other tip from that season (Syclops, if you’re interested) never came to much.

Anyway, I hear there’s a new H&LA album coming out in January, entitled Blue Songs, which is close enough for me to start raving on about them all over again. So gently close your bedroom door, put on your dancing shoes, and play the video above, which sees the troupe blaze through “Hercules Theme” in front of a staggeringly beautiful Chicago dusk.

Alongside the glamour and divahood, what attracted me to H&LA’s music was the unmissable waft of tragedy buried in it. Cleverly dressing songs up in Greek mythology is one way of alluding to “how horribly it [the disco scene that the music references] all ended”, to quote Alexis Petridis. Just as the image of Hercules wandering the island in search of his lost love proves upsetting for H&LA main man Andrew Butler, to me, their music is infused with a gentle yet irrevocable descent into sadness and miasma (in the ancient Greek sense of the word).

“Facilis descensus Averni”

Easy is the descent into hell, says Virgil, and Hercules and Love Affair is a lush and dancefloor-ready document of this descent. The album begins almost in torch-song mode, with Antony wailing “I cannot hold half a life / I cannot be half a wife” – a stark warning to those on the path of hedonism and debauchery. Following this prelude, the first half of the album has an overwhelming feeling of pleasure to it, from the refracted mantra of “You Belong”, to the decadent horns and clavinet in “Hercules Theme”. The bridging point is undoubtedly “Blind”, in which Antony reminds us once again of what will befall our protagonist, and, by implication, his history, over the top of strings, horns, and rattling electronics.

In his June 2008 interview with Heiko Hoffman, Andrew Butler recalled talking to the owner of “bizarre” clothes shop Smylon Nylon, who also made mixtapes containing Arthur Russell, Cerrone and Telex, among others. Butler quotes the owner, Chris Brick, as taking him aside and saying,

“Listen, you’re gay, right? This is your music. This is your history. You should go find this music and play it for people!”

Hercules and Love Affair sees Butler bringing to fruition the task that Brick bestowed upon him.

From there on in, the music takes a queasier, more unsettling turn. To quote Petridis again, “Aids brought the disco era’s freewheeling hedonism to a terrible close”, and songs like “Easy” and “This Is My Love” bear testament to these latter days. The former track is an exercise in rawness, as an unnaturally low-pitched Antony intones a mournful lullaby amidst a collage of detuned synths and clattering percussion that sounds like tennis shoes squeaking off the court. This is closer to the territory of Hegarty’s day job of fronting Antony and the Johnsons, albeit with an electronic slant.

The album closes with the uncharacteristically goofy “True/False, Fake/Real”, but there’s truly no escaping the alluring tragedy that the rest of the record deals in. It’s like the history lesson you always wanted to hear.

Friendly Fires – Kiss Of Life [FGHOTS 1]

This evening I have two official Feel Good Hits Of The Summer about which to briefly extoll.

The first comes from the finest dancers in St. Alban’s, Friendly Fires, who I have already heaped praise upon on previous occasions. They release new single “Kiss Of Life” on 31st August, which if anything is a bit too late to win the hearts of summer festival-goers, who will already have been grooving away to the song’s feel-good samba rhythms all season. The video, filmed in Ibiza, ties in perfectly with the song, which pits a flowering romance against the impermanence of lines drawn in the sand, waiting to be washed away by the tide. The music is unflinchingly euphoric and dancefloor-friendly, a fact impressed upon us by Ed MacFarlane’s inimitable beach-front jiving. My my, he has rhythm.

If this song isn’t a hit, I will despair. It is fully ready for the radio, and yet it doesn’t miss a beat in providing sophisticated, shimmering pop music for music connoisseurs. Expect Friendly Fires to be officially elected as rulers of summer by 2011 at the latest.

Jarvis Cocker – Discosong (Pilooski Mix)

Shame on the Mercury judges for not nominating Jarvis Cocker’s refreshingly urgent Further Complications. While you digest that lamentation, you can also frazzle your brain by listening to the recent Pilooski remix of the album’s closing track, “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong)”, which is highly recommended, and is free.

The acclaimed French electronic artist re-imagines the song as a hushed, slithering dance track, with a lobotomising bass-line complemented by a crisp beat and inventive whistling percussive noises that leap out unexpectedly. Virtually nothing remains from the original – even the vocals are tampered with and re-ordered, occasionally warped into minor explosions that blurt out of the speakers. About two minutes in, a strange, whining, groaning synth hovers perilously between the channels, and the distant chiming of a guitar whispers through. A minute later, there is a wonderfully unexpected breakdown with a sweep across a harp, after which the rest of the instruments cut back in with greater intensity.

The whole remix is beautifully crafted, charting the mournful depths of the song in an insistent, nagging manner. By the end, as the harp winds down to a whooshing gurgle, there is absolute closure. It’s a remix that evokes the very best of former DFA remixes, in particular the closing minutes of their liberal interpretation of Gorillaz’s “Dare”, and it bodes extremely well for Pilooski’s remix of LCD Soundsystem’s 45:33, due to be released on September 14 as part of the aptly titled 45:33 Remixes.

You belong: yes, you belong!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I can’t really believe I haven’t blogged about Hercules And Love Affair yet, particularly since I practically discovered them. Well, almost.

Way back in early September 2007, I decided, on a whim, to pay a visit to the DFA’s Myspace. Not being overly fond of Mr. Murdoch’s social networking empire, I did so warily, mainly in an attempt to see if my favourite label at the time had signed anyone interesting. Pretty much the first thing I heard upon navigating my way there was the sparse and beautiful “Roar”, by Hercules And Love Affair. I had no idea who they were or where they were from, but I knew profoundly from that moment that they were going to be big. There was something ethereal and elusive about the music: the way Antony Hegarty’s breathy moans were encircled by gurgling bass and whirring synths; the locked-in beat that was clearly emanating from a TR-909. It was instantly racy, sensual and, well, pretty gay.

In an interview with Pitchfork, the creative force of the whole escapade, Andy Butler, spoke of visiting a clothes store called Smylon Nylon, where the shopkeeper took great care in choosing the music played in the store. Upon meeting Butler, and noting his conscientious love of the music, he said, “Listen, you’re gay, right? This is your music. This is your history. You should go find this music and play it for people!” It is this feeling of cultural history, and the undiscovered, supposedly tainted, history of gay culture in New York, which imbues virtually all of Hercules & Love Affair’s music. Their eponymous debut, released early last year, not only draws upon several decades of dance music history, but also succeeds in alluding to the societal concerns of Butler, and the scene he tries to represent. In the same interview, Butler recalled that “When making this record Antony always told me that I should draw from my experience and draw from who I am for the lyrics. He said that it’s important to be sincere”, and the thematic concerns in tracks like “Blind” and “Athene” certainly intrigue the listener on a greater level than just the precision and joy of the music. It is a truly important album, in that it brings an oft-forgotten tranche of music and history into a mainstream audience, and with an irresistable sensuality and sense of emotion.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to catch the band on their all-too-short tour last year (though, judging by their locations, it might not necessarily have been an comfortable experience for an impartial and thematically uninvolved fan). Luckily, they’ve recorded a fantastic session for Pitchfork.tv, which shows just how wonderfully the elastic grooves of the album have been translated into a live setting. With an eight-piece band in front of him (but sadly no appearances from Antony), Andy Butler’s music has taken on a renewed sense of euphoria and nostalgia, albeit at the expense of some of the haunting sorrow and emotional heartbreak that fills a good portion of the album. I can only hope this troupe of performers continues to make such brilliant music.

First Impressions…

… are good. I’ll post a review of both Tonight: Franz Ferdinand and Merriweather Post Pavilion a bit later but, for the moment, here are some initial thoughts.

Tonight is crisply produced and comes with the right kind of aesthetic that Franz Ferdinand have been hinting at, but they only ever plunge head-first into one of these new directions on one track, the 8-minute Moroder-aping “Lucid Dreams”, which features an extended synth workout. The rest of the album is solidly written, with characteristically catchy hooks and typically insightful, witty lyrics. What will probably strike me to a greater extent on further listens is the pacing and structure of the album. Certainly, it appears to run on a continual upward slope, heading towards the peak of a night out, which occurs during the aforementioned “Lucid Dreams”. The final two tracks definitely represent the post-night comedown, their being much more blissful and hungover, and also more sincere. Beyond that, I’ve yet to gauge a true understanding of the structure during the first half, except that “Ulysses” is an invented drug, and that “No You Girls” cleverly inverts the naïvety of first love halfway through the song.

Merriweather Post Pavilion has absolutely astonishing production. Far from the murkiness I was beginning to associate with Animal Collective, the album fizzes and sparkles and, most importantly, sends thunderous quakes of bass through my subwoofer. That’s important, because it appears to accentuate the more dance-orientated direction the band have taken. It’s not necessarily music to dance to, just music that bears more than a passing resemblance to dance-music forefathers. The songs themselves are complex in structure, with a myriad of samples and synths that somehow don’t ever get lost in a fog of meandering. Though this is their longest proper album yet, the songs appear more focused and rooted, though they don’t observe conventional pop song structures. Lyrically too, the album sees AC mature the themes first evoked on Strawberry Jam – those of childhood innocence; the simple love of others; and the essential mysterious wonderment of being alive. They’re well-expressed through not overly catchy lyrics, with minimal sonic meddling, and the whole combination of music and voice coalesces best of all on “My Girls” and the closer, “Brother Sport”.

More to follow, definitely.