May 30, 2013

“How do you stay motivated in the midst of everything that’s going on?” asks a ministerial voice at the opening of Disclosure’s debut LP Settle. The charged proclamations continue throughout the intro track, crying out over a glitchy garage beat. Remember when Kanye asked how one stays faithful “in a room full of hoes”? It’s kind of the same deal, except instead of moral self-aggrandisement, the crate-dug sample lends this Brit duo their necessary share of S-O-U-L-P-O-W-E-R.

Like Daft Punk before them and Leftfield before that, these boys have done their homework (no pun intended). Settle checks every corner of the discount vinyl mill from Art Of Noise and the KLF to the Artful Dodger and Derrick May, though somehow manoeuvring around the mawkishness these artists were so prone towards.

It’s dance floor candy the whole way through, every beat crafted with surgical precision and monastically focused programming and mastering. You never thought compression could sound so sweet. The grooves stick to your basic ‘2 + 2 = four on the floor’ formula and run the gamut from deep house to two-step to… Well, that’s about it. The horizon Disclosure have their sights set on is actually a mural at the back of the club and not the expansive ‘great divider’ kind, but in dance music, the trade these two apprentices seek to master, artistic originality comes second to the grooves, which here are bountiful.

When A Fire Starts To Burn reminds you of that time the Swedish House Mafia played the Hacienda. Latch is love made to the accompaniment of a Ministry of Sound chill-out compilation. F For You asks, “What if warbling electro bass was an instrument unto itself?” And there’s sultry vocals, honeyed synth chords and breakdowns aplenty on White Noise, Defeated No More and You & Me.

The infectious body grooves of Stimulation, Voices and Grab Her are highlights. The vocals, requisitely silky, take centre-stage in the mix, assuming command of minimal beats that are so painstakingly concocted it renders the ‘minimal’ label redundant.

There’s a very necessary modernness that pulses right at the core of Settle, anchoring the album to the 21st century while the sounds come hurtling through the time-space continuum from places as disparate as ’80s acid house raves and ’90s two-step parties.

Being children of the ’90s, these guys are too young to actually replicate the molly-distorted bleeps and warbles they remember lumbering around their heads the morning after a Spiral Tribe party. They’ve probably wondered just what the hell a ‘3am eternal’ actually is. Instead they settle for emulation, which – besides being a great flattery to the deep house cuts of yesteryear – makes this album more of a dynamic listen.

They do have the unfortunate habit of using UK garage as a crutch, making for more than one instance of filler, and tracks like Second Chance should serve as a reminder that just because you figured out a new studio trick, doesn’t mean it’s entertaining to listen to. In the end, however, these are all missteps that might have been fixed with a shorter tracklist.

While there’s no real need for any kind of congruence on an album so geared towards the dance floor, the fluid cohesion of Settle is almost as gratifying as the tunes. There’s enough of a party here to make it a worthwhile investment and it warmly harkens back to a time when dance music was only in the charts in Britain.