The last 12 months have been a roller coaster ride for Guy & Howard Lawrence. Deriving their success from helping to spearhead the future garage scene, these bedroom producers have gone from supporting Silkie and L-Vis 1990 in small clubs to closing out the US festival Coachella in little more than 18 months; a remarkable achievement that’s only made more astonishing when you take into account that they are 19 and 22 respectively.
Forming their album around the popularity of their singles ‘Latch’, ‘White Noise’ and ‘Me & You’, they opted to include more vocalists in the album. This is a far cry from their original material which propelled them into the limelight, and in my opinion a very bad move. I first took notice of Disclosure in the summer of 2011 when they released their first EP Carnival on a free download. This EP was like nothing else out there, a melodic cacophony of sound encapsulating warped RnB vocals against glitchy garage beats and lush pads and synths, with a clear influence from the UK Bass scene. From there they continued to perfect the future garage sound with hits such as ‘Tenderly’ and their remix of Jessie Ware’s ‘Running’. However, since the house revival which has taken the UK by storm, their sound has moved decidedly in that direction, which is reflected in Settle. The main weaknesses of the album lie solely in their collaborative works. They’ve brought in a range of current UK vocalists – London Grammar, Jamie Woon, Ed Macfarlane, Keable, Jessie Ware all join Sam Smith, Eliza Doolittle and AlunaGeorge on the album as featured artists. Now I don’t have anything against the vocalists; they all perform what they were asked to do with aplomb, and it’s all very clean and tidy, but what is lacking is creativity. All the vocal tracks feel extremely formulaic, almost as if they took ‘White Noise’ and said, ‘yeah that went well, lets do it again with someone else’.
Especially bland are ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’, which sounds like any other generic deep house track, and most unfortunately the Jamie Woon collaboration, ‘January’. I got very excited when I heard Woon, one of the most exciting talents in the UK, had teamed up with Disclosure, but all we were left with were all the same chord progressions, same bridges, same vocal style – basically an amalgamation of everything they had already put out. ‘Voices’ falls into the same trap, sounding extremely like a cross between ‘Me & You’ and the chorus from ‘Latch’. ‘Defeated’ is slightly better, taking more of a classic house style with the production on the organ taking a throwback to the 90s, but again, the vocal melodies and the beat are just generic, nothing new here. ‘Confess to Me’ is in the vein of ‘White Noise’ and is the best of the new vocal tracks, mainly due to Jessie Ware’s incredible voice and its bass heavy nature.
From the singles, ‘White Noise’ was well constructed and always going to do well as the house resurrection really kicked off at the start of this year, and ‘Me & You’ was the best track they did with a vocalist by a mile, wholly cause it sounded like something Artful Dodger could have made 15 years ago, real UKG at its absolute best. However ‘Latch’ to me screamed ‘sell out’, and was not the Disclosure I came to know and love.
Now at the moment I probably sound extremely miserable with nothing good to say, but this album has some excellent redeeming features, which all lie in the instrumental tracks. It really doesn’t surprise me the best tracks on the album are the ones without vocals, as this was how they made their name in the first instance, and they wouldn’t have to twist their production to allow for a voice to be slotted into their tracks. This is where Disclosure are most creative, which is why it bemused me so much that they felt the need to give most of the tracks vocalists. ‘When A Fire Starts to Burn’ is a great US style house number complete with the classic ‘black guy speaking in time over the top’ feature that defines a lot of US house. ‘F For You’ provides the stomping bassline that most of the album lacks and a great sample which is far catchier than any scripted lyrics on the LP.
However, the real highlights for me are ‘Stimulation’ and ‘Grab Her’, two club ready tracks of pure energy. ‘Grab Her’ sounds like the Disclosure of 2 years ago with an interesting skewed bassline that dances up and down the octave complemented by percussion that just keeps progressing. ‘Stimulation’ follows suit, utilising a tough jackin’ house beat and a bassline that throws you into the groove and doesn’t let you go until all 5 minutes and 20 seconds have elapsed. Slotted right in the middle of the album is the shortest track ‘Second Chance’ which provides a well needed break from the breathless garage and house. A Bondax-esque production, it’s a slow and soulful mover which starts off with the beautiful sound of crackling vinyl before sliding into wavy laid back chords which hint at the coming summer that will hopefully be as warm as synths they used.
On reflection it’s a very mixed bag from the Disclosure brothers, there are some real gems to be had in this LP, but it’s really let down by the lack of innovation on a lot of their tracks, with many sounding like their back catalogue thrown into a blender, remodelled, and a generic vocal slapped on top. That said, for their ages, the production values and skill sets that they have applied to make Settle are barely believable. I have no doubt they will improve further and for their own sake I hope they head back to making club music rather than pop songs, because as this record has shown, their talents lie in making music that should be mixed into Todd Edwards and MJ Cole, instead of Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift.By Alex Theodossiadis