Without a doubt the strongest debut of 2013, Disclosure’s Settle brings a confident burst of dance-pop synths that regenerate the 90s underground sound. In over 60 minutes, Howard and Guy Lawrence pay homage to classic garage and deep house through a vortex of funky hooks and catchy lyrics.
From the outset, Settle packs a gutsy punch. As the album opens with the hip hop preacher Eric Thomas, we are quickly sucked into the bass-pumping When A Fire Starts To Burn. The enigmatic and quasi-spiritual track sets the overall message of the record: change is inevitable. This idea of imminent metamorphosis sweeps the album, linking the soulful crooning of Sam Smith in the 2012 hit Latch, the dissonant grime beats of Confess to Me, and the euphoric album-closer Help Me Lose My Mind. While some songs are inevitably stronger than others (there is a self-confessed interval period with Second Chance), each track effortlessly syncs into the next. Such harmonious sequencing begs the album to be heard in its entirety and thus deflects from the slightly lethargic mid-section.
But it is important not to conflate harmony with homogeneity here. Settle offers a cross-pollination of dance sub-genres from old-school speed garage in Stimulation to romantic deep house in Defeated No More and January. This inclusive mix of sounds creates a sense of accessibility that is missing from other Mercury Prize-shortlisted candidates. Arguably, Disclosure has produced a record that embraces the growing eclectic tastes of the millennial generation. With this in mind, (unlike Alex Petridis of the Guardian), we should not get trapped in the genre-naming game when discussing the Surrey-born brothers, as their cross-genre approach is a key asset to the album’s success.
To be fair, by borrowing elements from 90s UKG legends such as MJ Cole and DJ Luck, Settle is far from revolutionary. Yet the album’s second-hand sound feels resoundingly fresh in comparison to the over-marketed frat boy “EDM” saturating radio playlists. More importantly, it reiterates the talent of the duo to reconceptualise classic dance motifs to current musical palates.
However, what really raises Disclosure’s odds of walking away with the Mercury prize on Wednesday, are the brothers’ impeccable choice in lead vocals for the album. Whether it is a tried and tested collaboration with Jessie Ware or with lesser-known artists such as Sasha Keeble, Settle’s choice in guest vocals are confidently executed. This is epitomized by the album’s star track You and Me. On paper, Eliza Doolittle and Disclosure sound very incongruous but Guy was able to spot how well Eliza’s smooth, light-hearted voice could be sped up to match that classic UKG sound. Seminal garage producer Wookie’s subsequent employ of Eliza’s vocals for his summer comeback The Hype was perhaps the greatest endorsement of their ear and intuition, and further emphasises the success of the risk taken in salvaging the reputation of the distinctly unfashionable Doolittle.
Given that the Mercury Prize night has thrown us a few curveballs over the years, it would be foolish to call Disclosure the outright winner. But, win or lose, Disclosure can leave the awards ceremony knowing that they have produced the kind of self-assured, playful dance albums we’ve not seen since Basement Jaxx’s debut back in 1999.