Album Review: Disclosure – Settle

It started in Surrey, one of England’s most musically historic counties, breeding grounds to indisputable legends Clapton, Beck, Page, and even The Rolling Stones, who honed their material  in the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond. It’s no wonder then, that such a refined piece of popular dance music, like the 2013 album ‘Settle,’  should come from Surrey––a place steeped in talent and taste.

‘Settle’ represents something potentially huge for the popularization of dance music as an emerging form of mainstream music: Disclosure’s preference for the use vocal samples in their tracks admits a lack of accessibility regarding other forms of dance music that fail (or choose not) to employ resonant vocal performances. Popular music in contemporary society all but demands vocals and, if dance music as a genre is really going to take over, the inclusion of vocals is the key to roping in those who would otherwise oppose instrumental dance. Here’s a challenge for any music buff: can you name the last #1 song that was purely instrumental? You probably can’t do it, because few probably can off the top of their heads.[1] That’s why Disclosure’s album is important: it transgresses dance music as a genre because of the powerful vocal samples; it has the capacity to make people explore the genre further by exposing them to dance music that they might actually like, largely because of ‘Settle’s’ vocals. “There aren’t many dance albums with full vocals. We don’t really know why. You need the vocals to capture your tune and lift it now and again,” Howard Lawrence, the younger of the two brothers who comprise Disclosure, said in SPIN.

Their album features eighteen tracks, not just a couple arguably great songs with some ephemeral junk mixed in for filler. Each song starts with an easily danceable rhythm, characteristic of Disclosure’s vocal house style. The beats are audibly industrial at points, combining with sprawling scales of off-note synth symphonies with simplistically aligned bass patterns. “I was listening to a lot of funk because I’m a bass player. I was also into a lot of singer-songwriters like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, because it’s really clever songwriting,” Howard offered in his interview with SPIN (note that Peter Gabriel is also from Surrey…). Disclosure employs these patterns, building up to strategic peaks of syncopation, to create drops that are more complex than most dance music being produced for popular consumption. They don’t need fog machines, light shows, and other production flourishes – their beats do the work. Then come the vocals…

Arranged and preformed by artists which often embody a soulful vocal presence, Disclosure’s album features vocal samples with meaningful weight: themes of love, dependence, desire. These themes are consummated by the building rhythms of the tracks on the album. They are intensified by the beat, not dependent on it. These artists, which include a variety of talent, are a throwback to house music of the 1990’s. Go listen to “Turn Me Out” by Kathy Brown feat. Praxis (1994). If you don’t notice the similar elements at work, I really can’t help you. The fervent voice of Kathy Brown will match anything you could compare it to on Disclosure’s ‘Settle.’ 

The point is – Disclosure’s formula is masterful. They might be young, they might be new, but these kids, these brothers from Surrey, have something huge. I guess that’s why they’re wanted on every festival line-up you can imagine these days. Get yourself a copy and take time to go through the album with a holistic approach. You will be stunned by the maturity if you aren’t too busy dancing or calling up your friend who’s (somehow) never heard of Disclosure.

[1] For the record, my research shows the last instrumental #1 was Mr. Orzo’s “Flat Beat” which reached #1 in the UK April 3, 1999

‘Settle’ is OUT NOW: iTunes