Album Review: Disclosure – Settle

[PMR Records; 2013]

Disclosure is the rare artist that’s managed to stay a step ahead of the hype. It seemed the brothers Lawrence knew exactly what they wanted Disclosure to be upon arrival in 2010 with their frank mixture of classic house and UK garage. Even before their name had caught on with broader dance and indie landscapes in early 2013, they released their foray into pop, The Face EP, a record that still justifies all the coverage and chart success the duo has managed in recent months, by itself. In fact, it’s still up for discussion if they’ve topped that EP’s destructive centerpiece, “What’s In Your Head.” All this is to say that it’s hardly a surprise Disclosure’s full-length debut on PMR Records, Settle, is one of most stunning and immediate records of the year.

The thing about Disclosure is, even with Settle, they’re hardly charting unforged sonic territory. They’re sound is pretty straight-forward, all things considered. Jacques Greene is more ambitious. Phon.o is more sophisticated. Sepalcure is smarter and more complex. But the boys’ ground game is simply on a whole other level. They’re working in a different realm of songwriting and production mastery than, well, just about anyone. Their made-to-look-easy acrobatic, precision-heavy technical chops and dry-cleaned textural palate set them apart, but otherwise it’s zero frills four-to-the-floor, 120 BPM house music wrapped up in some of the most diabolical staccato synth melodies and vocal hooks ever put to tape.

Settle also hosts an A-list of up and comers from the UK underground including AlunaGeorge, Jesse Ware, and London Grammar and the record almost functions as a statement of the new generation (the Disclosure boys are barely out of their teens) ushering out the old in one fell swoop by wholeheartedly and unabashedly embracing its influence and constructing some of the most vital and irresistible music imaginable. The album even opens with a motivational speaker soapboxing about the constant of change before the duo deliver their momentum-grabbing mission statement with “When A Fire Starts to Burn.” Considering the duo’s lightspeed rise to prominence, the track’s sentiment feels too slyly on the the nose not to be self-aware. And at least one thing is clear: they’re not going to waste the opportunity they’ve been given.

The group’s watershed 2012 single “Latch,” which features vocalist Sam Smith, arrives after “When A Fire Starts to Burn” as if to get it out of the way early. The track is still a masterwork in pop build with its clenched-muscled chorus and Smith’s climactic delivery of “Heart beats out of my chest” flung into a vat of reverb. The unlikely chart topper, “White Noise” isn’t close behind, Aluna Francis’ vocals playing see-saw with a caffeinated jungle-gym hook. The track’s standout moment is its transition from widescreen synth ambiance to throttling, heart attack-inducing dance workout at its chorus.

Disclosure’s music is almost invasively commanding and they manage it by understanding the power of peaks and valleys, surprise, and how to nurture the hell out of a hook, making it grow and expand over the course of a track. They dot Settle with little songwriting motifs, like how they bring the kick back in a beat after its expected, the way splinters of a snare might converge and snap together so damn satisfyingly right before the whole song comes crashing back in, or the way they swing from huge reverb-soaked abstraction to bone-dry, head-to-the-pavement immediacy on a dime.

Settle is the kind of record where everyone will likely have their own favorite tracks and those tracks will probably change over the course of listening to the album a few dozen times. I’m personally partial to “Defeated No More,” “Stimulation,” and “Help Me Lose My Mind.” Friendly Fires’ Ed Macfarlane turns in one of the most affecting guest spots on “Defeated No More,” which also sports an ungodly bait and switch with the hook on the chorus, causing the synth melody to go into a spine-wrenching tailspin. “Stimulation” is bare bones Disclosure, the duo unraveling one of the most infectious, t0-the-point dance hooks in recent memory. Then there’s the London Grammar-featuring “Help Me Lose My Mind.” Settle may play like a non-stop tour of no-bullshit dance music theatrics, but the latter track complicates Disclosure’s disposition as the brothers land on a beauty and stark, aching emotion they haven’t shown before. A lot of that has to do with Hannah Reid’s unfathomably gorgeous vocal, but it’s backed perfectly by a wash of rainy synths and a downbeat bass part.

Settle has a couple weak spots. Tracks like “F For You” and “Grab Her” would be USDA certified bangers on any other record, but here they feel like filler due only to their flawless surroundings. Otherwise, Settle is nearly impossible not to like. It nonchalantly surpasses expectations at nearly every turn. For Disclosure, it’s a triumph, arriving at the end of a few tireless years of touring and recording. For us, it’s one of the most gleeful and replayable debuts of 2013.