Credit where credit’s due to Guy and Howard Lawrence. As a few inevitable “sell-outs!” cries have sounded out following the brothers’ chart-topping success (their recent single White Noise got all the way to No. 2), they haven’t flinched in their response: how can you “sell out” if you were never really a part of – or even trying to be – genuine card-carrying stalwarts of the underground? The influences that led to Disclosure’s emergence as among the most significant UK dance acts of the last year tells a typical story of this generation’s unparalleled holistic approach to music. This was one achieved by riding on the coattails of a scene still in full flight through late-noughties dubstep (and still prior to the underground godfathers rushing to the surface – via the cover of the NME – with the epic meeting of Skream, Benga and Artwork as Magnetic Man), while simultaneously soaking up and seeking second-hand worship of a scene that youth had determined they’d missed out on with UK garage. In a recent Dummy interview Guy neatly boiled down the ridiculousness in accusations of the duo’s (or anyone’s) taste or influence being somehow illegitimate: “anyone can listen to music, that’s what it’s for.”
The focus on UK garage is vital to the successes of ‘Settle’, and it may well be worth doing some fact-checking in relation to the genre itself. While very much a part of the ‘nuum, it’s worth remembering that garage in its earliest forms was there to offer Room 2 respite to the machismo rush of the drum ‘n’ bass going off in the club’s main space. It often possessed a sensuality and an intrinsic affinity with hefty pop hooks and the classier ends of club culture – to the extent that it didn’t take all that much tweaking to operate as something unashamedly chart-climbing in its make-up and intentions. It’s this dance-pop blueprint – vital because arguably no stream of UK electronic music has ever bettered it – that resonates on You & Me: starting out with deep, shuffling beat and dank, murmured voice, before Eliza Doolittle sends things skywards. Latch – which is the best thing on ‘Settle’ because it’s still, by several country miles, the finest thing Guy and Howard have ever done – mostly works so well because of the way the instrumental is built entirely to accommodate the vocal. Those juddering, bassline-y blasts are like stepping stones for Sam Smith’s flooring performance to operate at full tilt.
Still, there might still be a sense through all this of Disclosure as students rather than active participants, and listening to ‘Settle’ it’s not too difficult to join the dots in their “balance between having the fully vocal, more ‘pop’ songs like Latch and songs like Stimulation with a more clubby element” (as they said in our interview). The strength of the first half of the album does avoid this being much of an issue. First track proper When A Fire Starts To Burn is a delightfully over-the-top deep house cut built around a snippet of a motivational speech – although the specific reference to “spontaneous combustion” in the Intro muddies the effectiveness of the sample as a metaphor for generation after generation of kids catching the dance bug. The tricksy F For You contains Howard’s most characterful and effective vocal contribution, and while Ed Macfarlane’s presence on Defeated No More doesn’t quite match his meeting with FaltyDL, it’s still got that enticing breeziness that anything the Friendly Fires man touches seems to possess. Half an hour in, and ‘Settle’ has barely put a foot wrong.
This isn’t maintained with quite the same success on ‘Settle’s’ rather bloated second half. While there aren’t any genuine duds, the Jessie Ware reunion on the tumbles of Confess To Me stands out as one track that doesn’t quite cohere in the way it could, riding Zinc-like waves of weightiness without quite committing to the cause. The more superfluous moments come with Second Chance’s dusty synth whirrs and the oddly named Grab Her. Maybe I’m missing something, or in danger of over-stating things, but having a track that repeatedly orders – albeit in a rather muffled fashion – to seize hold of a woman, doesn’t feel like the most intelligent of central hooks to deliver onto the UK’s clubbing experience.
It’s amazing how rapidly things can move, but it’s easy to forget that it’s only just over a year since that Jessie Ware remix not only did wonders for Disclosure’s exposure, but also played a significant part in breaking the career of their PMR labelmate. While this debut doesn’t offer many surprises and could do with some fat-shredding, it’s an astonishing statement of intent from pop’s strongest new voices, containing a collection of unpretentious garage and house productions that, at times, possess a striking understanding of how to accomodate a pop hook. ‘Settle’ is one of UK dance-pop’s most significant debuts since the efforts of Katy B and SBTRKT, and as their recently upgraded live shows further indicate, Guy and Howard Lawrence have studied their craft and graduated with top marks: and they mean business.