Andy Butler’s fifth LP arrived with an expressive press quote: “In all honesty, based on [the] Raw soundscapes, I didn’t know this would be a Hercules and the affair of love album. “From the beginning in amberIt’s quite clear what it means. “Grace” begins with agonizing drumming, sparkling piano loops, and deep bass notes, but it’s all taken just a few steps away from the dance floor that Butler had long called home. Everything moves below 120 bpm and the mix is light and spacious, leaving plenty of room for his humble baritone to tell his story of self-empowerment. Stretching the line between experimentation and renewal, Butler removes the project’s usual club music motifs to highlight heavier themes and darker personal expression.
For a producer and songwriter who has spent nearly a decade and a half carving the golden ages of disco, house, and techno into his own image, Butler makes a bold change of direction across these 12 songs. Post-punk, goth, industrial, and ’80s rock edges are littered throughout the production , paired with uniquely diverse audio offerings. Most notably is the return Anonymouswhich – after 14 years of performing in “blindDefining the sound of H&LA—brings a core energy ranging from despair to anger. In “Christian Prayer,” Annone disguises thoughts of an afterlife as she screams through fiery guitar notes and drums, “When I die, don’t appeal to your God.” Then in the gruff anthem of rejection, “Contempt for you,” she repeats like a rousing mantra, “Surely glad I survived, but I have nothing but contempt for you.” The anger is not hopeless: In a way, raw conviction makes her words feel comforting and connecting.
There are also spaces for reflection and calm, which an album often stumbles into. Icelandic singer Elaine E lends “Dissociation” downtempo a nice poise, though her quiet delivery feels uncharacteristic compared to ANOHNI’s injured shiver over an abstract elegy “Who’s Going to Save Us?” The funeral march of “You Won This War” centers on a progression of two chords that revolve around the checkered arrangement, as the butler oscillates between sombre word-of-mouth singing and a kind of royal chant. But despite the dynamics of the cut and the variety of sounds, the six minutes of song from Ren Faire’s somber play seems to be falling apart aimlessly. Butler uses a similar linear structure with “Father’s Eyes” and elevates his thoughts through a section of strings, lyrical guitar strings, electronic noises, and moving vocals. The music sounds meditative, and its stratified order swells and shrinks along with the emotional uncertainty of the lyrics.
Butler has always sounded more confident when writing for the dance floor, so it’s no surprise that most of the lead characters fall into this comfort zone. At its core, “Killing His Family” cleverly blends distorted rhythm with bouncy house bass, which Butler uses to shift between moody, disjointed verses and poignant, ear-wrenching choruses. The stinging “Poisoned Storytelling” is a sharp, drum-heavy pop song that’s equal parts industrial techno and angelic chamber music. For all types of blends and productions, there’s nothing kinetic or buoyant enough to stand alongside his favorite flooring fillers, although “one” is the closest. The song embraces its core strength, built around a steady, disjointed bass loop and ANOHNI’s most engaging and exciting performance here. It’s the emotionally charged, invigorating classic of the kind made famous by Hercules and the Love Affair. on me in amberButler may have found a few peaks and his share of valleys, but a few could emerge from the shadows of what came before.
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