Tag Archives: disco

Slow down, dilettante

“You’re like a party, I heard through the wall.” — St. Vincent, 2011.

There is a fraying thread that separates true assimilation of an alien culture and mere appropriation of it.

Is tourism, or even tourism of the mind, a suitable fertiliser for the act of cross-breeding with forms of art outside one’s direct experience?

What, subconsciously, got me thinking about this was Fatima Al-Qadiri’s 2014 album Asiatisch, on which she uses her mind’s eye’s vision of China, coupled with the sensory overload actual images of the country have provided, to unwittingly alight upon the sound of sinogrime. But a deeper exploration of her unsettling art will have to wait for another day. Instead, I turn to three British releases of varying vintage. Continue reading Slow down, dilettante

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Special Disco Versions

There is a lost art form and it is the special disco version. Beloved of James Murphy, and neophytes like my friends and I, these are endlessly strung-out 12″ edits suitable for dancing to in people’s living rooms. Embarrassment doesn’t enter into the equation.

Continue reading Special Disco Versions

Unfriends like these

Over breakfast, reading Giles Coren and Matthew Parris in The Times, I was forced to conclude that schooling kills creativity, and economists’ predictions are not so much dismal science as abysmal science. I suppose I am doubly screwed, then. Continue reading Unfriends like these

Compass points to the rhythm

It barely matters that one of Miss Grace Jones’s two true masterpieces was recorded in New York City and the other in the Bahamas—both are imbued with the spirit of the Caribbean, and both are albums I kept returning to whilst marooned in India over the last month or so. Continue reading Compass points to the rhythm

Hot Chip — Night And Day

The first song to be previewed from Hot Chip’s forthcoming album In Our Heads was a whistle-stop (quasi-pun, I’m afraid) tour around the world in seven minutes. The first single, “Night And Day“, is not. Instead, it’s a slice of bouncy disco that wouldn’t look out of place amongst Joe Goddard’s record collection. There’s an elastic bassline, a helium-voiced chorus that recalls the Bee Gees (or, if you’re a little young, Scissor Sisters). Neat production tricks abound, from the odd squelch in between phrases, to the knowingly shadowy vocal fills at the end of the verses.

It’s less of an instant earworm than previous Hot Chip lead singles (“Ready For The Floor” and “Made In The Dark”), but I fear it’s going to work its way into my brain before long—even if it’s just the deadpan bridge with its black-humour couplets telling us to “Quit your jibber jabber”.

I don’t know why, seven years after the release of Station To Station, David Bowie thought it necessary to team up with Chic’s Nile Rodgers in order to make the disco-centric Let’s Dance.

Back in 1976, he cornered the market all by himself with “Stay”, a six-minute funk odyssey with classily struck chords, a light pattering of tropical percussion, and the meanest bass-line this side of Compass Point Studios (which itself wasn’t built till a year later). Near the end, there’s a brilliant interplay between bass and lead guitar, the latter of which is busy wailing away to the Thin White Duke’s wildest coke-fuelled nightmare.


Taken from Station To Station (RCA Records, 1976).

Strict machine, strict morals

To mark the end of their time as residents on the EMI/Parlophone roster, Goldfrapp have elided their finest singles into a neat collection with typically gorgeous artwork (Mat Maitland at Big Active gave me an early love of graphic design) and two new compositions.

It’s a fine body of work which encourages listeners to not only reappraise the combo’s most radio-friendly material, but also seek out deeper cuts which might have been released as singles in a parallel, more sophisticated universe. It’s inevitable, with a collection like this, to notice the absences, but concision makes the collection all the more elegantly sequenced.

“Elegant is an appropriate word to describe Goldfrapp”

Elegant is an appropriate word to describe Goldfrapp. Even at their most sexually charged (see “Strict Machine“, from 2003’s Black Cherry), there is a quaint naïveté to the music and the lyrics which is at odds with their image. The prevailing mood of 2005’s Supernature, from the artwork downwards, was intended to be sleazy, but its standout songs (the ubiquitous “Ooh La La” which opens this compilation, and the dominating “Ride A White Horse“) quickly trade smut for euphoria. That album also featured two quasi-ballads, “Let It Take You”(see below) and “Time Out From The World“, both beatless and stratospheric, and rich in emotional baggage. At their zenith, Goldfrapp appeared to have beamed in from a very different place.

“Seventh Tree repositioned them in the mode of Beck circa Sea Change: acoustic and woody in timbre, and tepid in dynamics”

The duo then took quite an about turn in their career, eschewing the disco ball of Supernature and Black Cherry, and the alpine, noirish cabaret of their debut, Felt Mountain. 2008’s Seventh Tree repositioned them in the mode of Beck circa Sea Change. Acoustic and woody in timbre, and tepid in dynamics, the singles from this era don’t stick in the mind so much, but their mid-table position in this new compilation allows you to enjoy the very particular sonic details that made it, in aggregate, a rather bleak and tired affair. It’s a pity they never released the best song on the album, “Cologne Cerrone Houdini” (see below), which harks back to the age of soul with its orchestral flourishes and squelchy keys. The song is airy and helium-powered, in stark contrast to the songs which surrounded it.

“Head First was an exercise in cheap 1980s neon retreads”

The final act in the Goldfrapp/EMI partnership was the most sorrowful. Where Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory once created the Ur-sounds that would be replicated by others (Madonna’s Confessions On A Dance Floor was reputedly inspired by Supernature), 2010’s Head First was an exercise in cheap 1980s neon retreads. Alas, below the head-rush, it was limb-less.

Goldfrapp’s falling star tendencies might lead the listener to imagine this compilation as a parting shot. It doesn’t help that the new songs sound elegiac and stately, and that they close out the track-listing. (They are both, however, lovely: “Yellow Halo” softly pulsates through French touch and blog house, sounding a bit like Friendly Fires and Cut Copy; “Melancholy Sky” (see top of article) is lounge-y and evokes comparisons with the duo’s Felt Mountain sound.) But Goldfrapp are nothing if not determined. Currently at work on their sixth album, Will and Alison remain a creative partnership to be written off at one’s peril. So let’s hope The Singles proves not to be a swansong, but the closing of a chapter in the career of a duo who are often overlooked but never underrepresented in their impact on popular music.

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.

Jessica 6

I liked Hercules And Love Affair a lot, from the moment I heard “Roar”, right up until they released their second album, Blue Songs, when it all turned a bit rote. The best part of their first, self-titled, album was the sense that you were listening to a real-life band, making disco like it used to be made, to be played out in Studio 54. Come Blue Songs, and this sensation vanished, into the pulsating streams of Detroit.

Lucky, then, that three of the people who made their début such good fun have formed their own outfit, dubbed Jessica 6. Led by the transfixing vocalist Nomi Ruiz, this trio (flanked by Morgan Wiley on keys, and Andrew Raposo on bass) trade in a bleepy kind of house that’s equally indebted to P-Funk and disco. On teaser track “Prisoner of Love”, which also spotlights a guest turn from Antony Hegarty, the way the chorus vocals repeating the titular hook are stacked so high is straight outta the songbook of the greats. Think Chic, in a good way.

Maybe they don’t have the strength in depth that H&LA mainman Andy Butler displayed on the deeper cuts of his first album. Both “Prisoner of Love” and another teaser, “White Horse”, could perhaps be called skin-deep. But the unexpected breakdown a minute before the end of “Prisoner of Love” gave me second thoughts. And so I’m definitely considering the idea that their album, See The Light, could become this year’s Hercules And Love Affair.

See The Light is released on Peacefrog Records on 6th June; “Prisoner Of Love” can be downloaded here.

Hercules And Love Affair – Blue Songs

Andy Butler from Hercules and Love Affair
Image by acedout via Flickr
The eponymous debut from Hercules And Love Affair was the ultimate album to wallow in your own self-pity to. Charting the rise and fall of gay disco culture, from Studio 54 at its peak to the pitiless devastation of AIDS, the album was a loving and sybaritic pastiche, importing the sounds and sensations of a bygone era.
Around half of the troupe’s follow-up, Blue Songs, wants to be similarly anecdotal and reminiscent. Beguiling opening track “Painted Eyes” introduces us to the album’s secret emotional weapon, Venezuelan-born singer Aerea Negrot, whose intonation is as exotic as her background would suggest. Over an urgent rhythm and string arrangement, the lyrics are elegant and yearning – a trick Negrot repeats a couple of tracks later on the soulful “Answers Come In Dreams”.
At its most ambitious moments, Blue Songs is a triumph. The brace of songs that form the centrepiece, “Boy Blue” and “Blue Song”, are autobiographical compositions, and hearken back to very un-obvious forebears. The former is an acoustic strum written as a paean to Sinéad O’Connor, which builds to an echoing climax; the latter is a lazily tropical number with woodwind, Jew’s harp, and polyrhythms galore.
The trouble is, the other half of the album follows more base desires, with more rote and predictable outcomes. The rot begins with “Falling”, which deals in the same musical tropes Hercules And Love Affair have employed to better effect elsewhere, and reaches crisis point on “Visitor”, which is about as interesting as listening to a dishwasher for five minutes. H&LA main man Andy Butler usually wears his influences on his sleeve, but here the sticky fingers of Mark Pistel and Patrick Pulsinger are present not only in spirit but in person too. If anything, this invitation to collaborate robs the songs of their excitement.
The album closes on an even weirder note, with a wobbly cover of the Sterling Void song “It’s Alright”, popularised by the Pet Shop Boys in 1989. The effect is haunting, with Butler’s adolescence and futurism colliding via the strangely dispassionate singing of his partner-in-crime Kim Ann Foxman.
My admittedly high expectations of Blue Songs have not been matched fully in the album’s execution. Butler has shown he can write music that evokes the spirit of old-school disco, but here, all too often, he looks to a different historical period; one that he is unable to recreate so well, in spite of its obvious significance in his personal development. A missed opportunity.
Pick ‘n’ mix: My House, Answers Come In Dreams, Boy Blue.