Music is cyclical. Like all trends it follows unruly patterns, a shifting tide retreating back and forth, with continuous reconstruction of earlier works. At some stage a genre pauses for a moment of introspection and reflection, peering into the shadowy depths of the past to draw inspiration for the present and the future.
Deep house as a sub-genre of EDM was considered by many to be too esoteric and subtle to erupt from the underground, but when Disclosure’s fifth single "White Noise" peaked at number two in the UK Singles Chart in February 2013, it felt like the melodic harbinger of winds of change for house music. Guy and Howard Lawrence, the two brothers who make up the electronic duo, weren’t even born when Manchester nightclub Haçienda was popularising acid house in the late eighties. Yet the tracks that comprise their debut album Settle are heavily informed by the house music from the decade that followed.
Purists will be quick to dismiss the album’s first two crossover hits ("Latch" and "White Noise") as watered-down versions of a richer underground sound, but they miss the point. Whilst it’s true that stylistically Settle is revisionary as opposed to revolutionary, it’s successful because they revisit the two-step, garage and house sounds of the past, but refract them through the prism of modern pop, refining their influences and rechanneling the sounds using fresh eyes.
Album centerpiece "White Noise" may well be the greatest dance song of 2013: a perfect storm of warped synths and distorted bass-lines. There’s a moment of magic and exaltation around the one-minute-twenty-second mark, when Disclosure peel away the beats and introduce a rich haze of swooning synths backed by AlunaGeorge’s looped vocal of “just gonna get my back”, before the beat kicks back in with the hook of the chorus. It’s a trick they repeat several times on the album and it always works.
Lead single "Latch" remains one of the best dance-pop songs of recent years to capture – both lyrically and musically – that heady and all-consuming rush that overtakes you when you’re falling helplessly and hopelessly in love with someone. Sam Smith’s brilliantly soulful vocals are at odds with the track’s offbeat hyperactive rhythm, but it works spectacularly when bolstered by the precisely layered instrumentation and propulsive background glitches.
Smith is one of a raft of collaborators who litter the album: eight of the thirteen proper tracks feature guest appearances. This predilection for well-chosen collaborations is a masterstroke in that it sidesteps the issue of facelessness that clouds so many house singles. The Lawrence brothers provide their own vocals on "F For You," another mass of infectious silky grooves and throbbing beats. Elsewhere, gorgeous stripped down album closer "Help Me Lose My Mind" uses the irresistible voice of London Grammar vocalist Hannah Reid over a contagious beat.
On Settle, Disclosure answer the question that they pose in their one minute intro, when an exasperated preacher asks: “How do you stay motivated in the midst of everything that’s going on? How do you build your personal momentum and how do you get in the zone?” The thirteen tracks that follow are their answer - they create dance music as life-affirming and cathartic as this – and don’t settle for anything less. Fanned by an intelligent approach to production, Disclosure’s fire has started to burn, and is destined to whip itself into an inferno this year.
Ultimately Settle is the aural fruits of Disclosure’s mission to reinvigorate dance and pop by annexing and consolidating their favourite sounds from the sonic side-streets of house music’s sprawling musical past. The sound of summer starts here. [B+]
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