Lights and ecstasy. Either in exogenous form, or your brain will produce it for you as you’re dancing away to these songs.
Considering how James Blake dropped his (deservedly) hyped debut at the young age of 21 and Disclosure, a duo made of Guy and Howard Lawrence, are 21 and 18 years old respectively (I’ll let that sink in…one of these guys is eighteen years old), you’d think there’s something special in the rainwater over in London.
I’ll just start with something Pitchfork’s Larry Fitzmaurice said and go from there, “UK dance culture has long prided itself on pushing things forward, and Disclosure’s arrival on the scene […] marks the first time in many years that the freshest dance sounds from across the pond sound a little second-hand.” Yes and no; Disclosure’s music doesn’t seek to impress people by pushing boundaries, but it certainly is different than preceding UK dance acts. In a recent interview with Dummy, Howard Lawrence said this: “we’ve always written pop songs.” Yeah, that basically sums up Settle.
Unlike Burial or Joy Orbison, both of whom have been namedropped by the brothers in recent interviews (Howard, “We only really started hearing dance music around when Burial’s album, [Untrue] and Joy Orbison’s first single came out”), Disclosure forgoes the atmosphere of the former and the ambient buildup of the latter that had turned heads some four years ago. While elements are added as the songs progress (the Joy Orbison-like slabs of chords in “F For You,” for example), Disclosure’s beats are presented to us in ready-to-dance form from the get-go. Moreover, there’s a downplay of the importance of samples; “Latch” uses a high-pitched vocal sample to punctuate the beat and Kelis appears on “Second Chance,” but that’s basically it. “Intro / When a Fire Starts to Burn” takes a monologue from Eric Thomas but it feels like it were written exclusively for the track itself. The fact that “Latch” was used in last night’s So You Think You Can Dance (my mother’s favorite TV show, I can sometimes hear the soundtracks of which and Nigel (the mean one)’s and Mary (the loud one)’s comments sifting to my room) proves that Settle has that universal appeal such that while we can certainly call this thing UK dance because it has all the right elements but really, the more appropriate term would be universal dance music. Can we make a new genre called UDM? It sounds just as good as EDM and IDM do. Probably more appealing, actually.
I was initially worried seeing the tracklist, which looked like a smorgasbord of internet-famous guest featuers, but listening to it, I’m definitely glad. The album’s main weakness is its lack of variety; Scott Wilson, who wrote a well-written critical review of the album for The Quietus speaks to this, “It’s the same formula: build up a beat, lay down a catchy (but basic) melody, bring in the vocal, slap a rubbery bassline down, slather some pads over the whole thing, let it soar, drop the bassline, repeat.” It doesn’t help that all of these beats are kept in the same tempo. The only one that really differs stylistically is closer “Help Me Lose My Mind,” which features the album’s most touching moment when Hannah Reid (of London Grammar) gets to the hook and is the track that you’d find yourself dancing by yourself to in the comfort of the privacy of your own home. The rotating door of different voices on the album keep things fresh to balance out though. After “the intensity of a Southern minister in the throes of sweaty sermonizing” of “When a Fire Starts to Burn” (words courtesy of Pitchfork’s Patrick Fallon), Sam Smith launches to a falsetto in the hook of “Latch” that neither Eric Thomas nor Guy Lawrence (who takes lead in following “F For You”) are able to replicate. The falsetto is made seemingly higher following the vocal sample. Meanwhile, Aluna(George) brings a girlish quality (“I’ve been thinking lately / If you want to get off / Then let’s play rough” is downright sexual) that the preceding tracks just don’t have. Again, universal dance music—dance music for everyone.
In one of the few criticisms that TheIndependent cooks up in the only other (as per metacritic) negative review of the album, Andy Gill notes that only Jamie Woon-aided ”January” has “a sliver of lyrical imagination.” I’d argue that Andy Gill is missing the point. I was singing along to “When A Fire Starts to Burn” and “F For You” within seconds of it starting—not even before the first play was even finished for either track. They present their hooks once, let them bury in your head as earworms often do, and just repeat it so that you can as well. It doesn’t take an English minor (which I am) to figure out that the lyrics to “When A Fire Starts to Burn” (which are made of “When a fire starts to burn, right / And it starts to spread / She gon’ bring that attitude home / Don’t wanna do nothing, we do light”) aren’t supposed to mean anything. It also doesn’t take a cynical music critic to realize just how catchy those lines are, especially the way “Burn,” “Right,” and “Spread” punctuate the beat.
One of my least-liked professors in my undergraduate career was really outspoken about the problems with Gen-Y. That our generation had the highest rates of depression and our apparent and complete apathy meant it would only get worse. To him, I’ll say indirectly that we are doing something. Pop music nowadays is often criticized as being shallow, but I’d offer that it constantly gives us a solution to our depression. In the words of a famous popstar you might be familiar with, “Just dance. It’ll be okay.”