Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Disclosure: Settle (2013)



Like no album since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Disclosure's proper debut Settle covertly built demand and interest over the course of a year or so with a conspicuous and highly pleasurable series of brilliant dance singles, some that made the cut of the LP and some (like last year's superb "Tenderly") not. The keynotes "Latch" and "White Noise" are heavenly throwback, owing as much to early '90s hi-NRG beats as to any modern iteration of club music; dubstep, for one thing, is conspicuously absent.

Taking all this to full length, Disclosure disappoint slightly. Settle is just a tad repetitive, even at less than an hour, and cursed with a series of feature shots that don't add much and grooves that hop along but fail to really, well, stimulate. "Latch" is their most complete construction as a functioning outlet. That sublime single features a great vocal by Sam Smith; "White Noise" boasts AlunaGeorge, who released a dandy record of their own this year. Both these cuts set the roadmap for all else to follow on the record. There's nothing wrong with being a great singles act, but it feels like much of the music populating the middle of the record is less extrapolation and variance than mere belaboring of already-established points.

The Eliza Doolittle guest turn "You & Me" is a step up, and "Grab Her" is just obnoxious enough to stand out, but the best one can say about Settle is it's a consistently agreeable body album. Guy and Howard Lawrence keep the beat going flawlessly, but perhaps because they seem to feel they have so much to prove about the long-declining UK dance scene, they bury their sense of individuality under a lot of numb crowd-pleasing. Not that it isn't pleasing indeed -- it has so much more to offer and such a greater degree of pop intelligence than the overwhelming majority of modern electronic music. But where the singles seemed playful, the album seems slick and obvious.

There's more to these two, though. Take note that the album begins and ends with outliers. "When a Fire Starts to Burn" is nothing new, part "Elektrobank" and part My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, an fiery inspirational speech set to mumbling, cascading d'n'b, but it's a bold way to start the program and there's nothing else here quite like it -- certainly nothing so confrontational, which calls to mind the towering strangeness of their 2012 twelve-inches.

The revelation of Settle, though, is the song that competes with "White Noise" as its most conventional and pop-crafty. "Help Me Lose My Mind" sounds less like an album-closer than an afterthought bonus track, so little does it share aesthetically with the record's generally dogged resistance to letting the pace slip. It's a slow, soulful trip-hop oddity with vocals by the largely unknown Nottingham trio London Grammar. It's an emotional rush, sad and remarkable, and feels like the moment on U2's Zooropa when Johnny Cash suddenly appeared like a warm breeze over an arid, docile landscape. Disclosure have the capacity to create something magical. They already have, in short form. Even if Settle is merely serviceable for most of its duration, it justifies its entire existence by giving us "Help Me Lose My Mind," and maybe the success of Settle will in turn justify Disclosure's potential boldness and exposure of their obvious eclecticism next time.

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