Some musicians get chic by remembering the ‘90s; others, like Disclosure, were simply born then. Guy and Howard Lawrence, two brothers maybe too young to be called millennials (Guy just turned 22, Howard 19), have found themselves the frontmoppets of what’s an omnivorous and huge dance crossover in the UK of late. Hit after No. 1 hit on the British charts belongs to relative newcomers amalgamating UK funky and original-flavor dubstep a couple years ago to turn-of-the-century crossover garage and ‘90s house, both mainstream and not — and on Settle, they’re “newcomers” in the sense that they were in pacifiers at the time.
Disclosure aren’t pioneers, exactly. This sound has been bubbling up for some time, closer and closer to the mainstream: here the doyennes of cult British radio station Rinse FM like Katy B and Jessie Ware, there the fellow revivalists like Rudimental and Duke Dumont, all unanimously praised. But Settle and its singles (“White Noise” featuring Aluna Francis of AlunaGeorge, “Latch” featuring Sam Smith of half these revival acts) represent by far its most populist moment, and it’s made Disclosure a bit of a bellwether. Do these kids have any right to this music, and is it any good? Mostly it depends on how you listen. Settle is structured as a dance set — fiery crowd-pleaser to start, hits to the front but not at the front, languid middle stretch, comedown at the end. It’s very possible to listen the whole way through, in the club or out in the beer garden; there’s a reason this was released at the tip of summer. It’s also possible to fall down a K-hole of authenticity and genre one-upmanship, the music itself becoming so much — well, white noise. But Settle’s best experienced neither as an album nor as a referendum on any genre current or classic, but simply as a collection of great moments. Here are a few.
Disclosure are great because: They love their sounds. Whenever anyone talks about “White Noise,” their No. 2 breakout single, the first thing they mention is the hook. It’s a peppy, dingy keyboard riff like motor oil seltzer. It’s mixed nearly as loud as vocalist Aluna Francis is; it bursts even more to the front on the chorus; it’s nagging, obsessive, bright then dark as the narrative demands; it can’t stop, won’t stop.
Settle is full of these moments. There are the standards, the sounds of house Guy and Howard belatedly grew up with: the claps that sound like claps, kick drums that sound like heart kicks, the agitated skitters and high panpipes: not new, but lovingly recreated. There are the newer standards like dropping R&B vocalists into tracks like shattering rooms. It’s not surprising, exactly — at least they passed up the Aaliyah samples — but striking nevertheless. Kelis slips, pitch-shifted, into a jungle whirlpool on “Second Chance.’ An A J. Dilla sample bounces like a echo through stalactites on “Grab Her.” Jessie Ware’s chilly vocal is sent through Settle’s most distorted track, like supercooled air through rusty pipes; the beltingest parts of Lianne La Havas’ sampled voice and military drums crack in tandem on “Stimulation.” You know Disclosure’s fascinated by what they can do to vocals when they let Sam Smith, the beltingest guy here and the only one who could placate people listening to big house vocalists, dissolve into nothing on “Latch.” The bridge of “Control,” which didn’t make the cut — not an injustice so much as a testament to how ridiculously prolific these brothers are — bursts into a fluttering noise that I swear is the P-wing sound from Super Mario Bros. 3. These are guys barely out of their teenage years; there’s no real reason to think it isn’t. And that’s fantastic.
Disclosure are great because: They unite dance purists and rock curmudgeons alike in getting really, really mad. “Is the music these two brothers make deep house or not? And does it really matter?” The Guardian asked as they premiered Settle for the first time, and the comments predictably became a test to see who can best piss the long arc of dance history as remembered by 18-year-olds. Those who were angry were really angry, though none of them can quite agree whether Disclosure are watering down house, watering down garage or watering down pop. Those who were enamored were also really enamored; there’s a whiff of overcorrection among critics and fans alike who hail Disclosure and their peers primarily for not being hard-thumping, testosterone-roided “EDM.” It’s hard to blame anyone — Disclosure themselves made the comparison, they’re working with the same guys, and given how crossovers go it’ll probably be about a year before someone gets Ellie Goulding or Florence Welch or Tinie Tempah in, fresh off their ninth Calvin Harris collab and en route to a Pepsi ad. There’s no compelling reason to count Disclosure out.
Disclosure are great because: They’re the music industry’s most efficient machine at refurbishing B-list singers. Not everyone is B-list; Ware, toward the end, may be bigger at this point than Disclosure and gave the group their first break with a remix of her single “Running.” But everyone else is like a Who’s Who of the BBC Sound list. There’s Jamie Woon, arguably the most-deserving but least-appreciated guy among Britain’s crop of Next Best Guys a couple years ago. There’s Ed Macfarlane of Friendly Fires, sighing and heaving all over the track, sounding more soulful than his main outfit ever did. There’s Howard Lawrence himself — who is a child – on “F For You,” sounding if anything too cool for his song. All you needed to know about Eliza Doolittle previously was that her name is Eliza Doolittle, that one of her singles was about roller blades and that another had the bridge “tweet tweet tweet,” but “You and Me” basks in warmth that mostly comes from her. It’s easy to be cynical about guest spots on dance albums — particularly when they’re gonna-be or coulda-been guests, as if the Disclosure guys are unpaid A&R interns. (Kids their age usually are.)
Obviously, the politics here are thorny and come with crate-digging prerequisites that knock out 90% of the listening population, including 90% of everyone who chalks up their profile pics with the Disclosure logo. But here’s something telling: unless it’s to rail against dance music as a whole, Disco Demolition Night dagnabbits that can be ignored, none of the haters deny Disclosure know their history — they can’t, not when the brothers have been scrupulous in press to show their work — and they never say Disclosure are bad. Even the curmudgeons can only muster such cutting insults as “It’s far from a train wreck and I’m not sure if any of these tracks could even qualify as bad in a classical sense.” So, to rephrase: Disclosure have released a debut album where every track is solid. Settle sounds great because its influences were also pretty great, which you can find out with one long dancing day on YouTube. Just like Disclosure probably did.
Settle is out now on PMR Records.