[WAIT, DISCO? REALLY?] I am fascinated by disco. And I don't mean the contemporary electronic dance music that passes itself off as such: I'm talking half-naked, coke-snorting, mirror-ball, blowjobs-in-the-men's-room disco. That oft-trashed genre that soundtracked '70s excess to such a degree that it really ought to be cataloged and studied with the same intensity as folk and blues. Besides, have you listened to that shit with headphones on? I swear to God, "More More More" by Andrea True Connection is one of the best-sounding recordings I've ever heard.
I'm glad Ancient Heat shares my fascination. The nine-piece Portland outfit isn't a retro or tribute act, but it integrates many of the hallmarks of disco—pulsing futuristic synths, skip-step drumming, the occasional sax solo, sexy female vocals—into a slightly updated dance-music sound on its original tunes. Ancient Heat even dresses for the occasion, its members decking themselves out in white lacy attire for live shows and press shots.
On new 12-inch single Oh...You Bad, the Heat might actually take things a bit too far. The title track ably re-creates the signature sound of the '70s (producer Collin Hegna, who helms spaghetti-western orchestra Federale, knows a thing or two about reproducing a classic sound), but it also embraces disco's vapidity with a one-line chorus repeated ad nauseam. Sometimes a great hook can carry a song—and the band's live shows offer plenty of welcome distractions—but this one tires pretty fast, both in its original state and on two more modern remix versions.
But don't lose hope, party people: The single's looser B-side, the mostly instrumental "Slap & Gallop," is a soaring and cinematic horn-driven tune that bears many repeated listens. By stepping away from a strict constructionist interpretation of disco and showing just how capable this band can be when it forgets about gimmickry and dives headlong into a groove, Ancient Heat does manage to breathe a little life into a genre most folks thought died a long time ago. More of that, please.