Reporting Courtney E. Smith
Since its release this past Tuesday (June 4), the Internet has practically exploded with positive words for the British duo’s debut, with critics using words like “flawless” and even in one case hailing it as the “British dance album of the year.” And in the UK, they’re already in a chart battle for the No. 1 slot with Queens of the Stone Age.
— selftitledmag (@selftitledmag) June 4, 2013
— iTunes Music (@iTunesMusic) May 31, 2013
— Jessie Ware (@Jessie_Ware) June 3, 2013
— Pitchfork (@pitchforkmedia) June 4, 2013
— FACT (@FACTmag) June 3, 2013
— QOTSA (@qotsa) June 5, 2013
So who are the members of this mysterious dance-music duo with the scratched-out faces? And why is everyone going nuts for their album?
Part of their appeal is that they aren’t part of the EDM scene–they’re not in the lineage of Avicii, Swedish House Mafia or even Deadmau5. The music they’re creating is an exploration of house music, UK garage (before it evolved into dubstep), soul hooks, and pop songs.
It’s telling that brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence write the music and lyrics themselves, but not necessarily by composing on a laptop. The two siblings have a background in playing drums and bass, which is where the audible influence in funk, soul, and prog rock (the latter of which Guy calls “proper dad music,” naturally introduced to him by his own dad) comes from. Howard told Radio.com he plays the piano “just as much” as he plays bass, which draws him towards melodies. Howard also wrote or cowrote most of the lyrics for the album’s guest vocalists, who include Jessie Ware, Ed Macfarlane of Friendly Fires, Eliza Doolittle, and Sam Smith.
“[Settle] is basically just a collection of songs we’ve made over the past year or two,” Howard said. “We wanted to get a good mixture of the clubbier-sounding tracks and the fully vocaled, more pop-structured songs that we do…we don’t really have a set formula to write songs. It changes every time, especially as we wrote with so many featured vocalists.”
The guys said they were brought up on ’80s pop, from Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson, and credit that era with having a massive influence on them. That influence is especially evident in the vocal work featured on many of their songs, including the hellfire-and-damnation-inspired single that kicks all the album, “When A Fire Starts To Burn.”
“The guy who we sampled for that song, the guy singing ‘when a fire starts to burn,’ he’s a motivational speaker from New York actually,” Guy said. “He does massive speeches on business strategy and how to live your life and all this preacher-type stuff. We really wanted to get a rapper on the album, but it just didn’t work out. We couldn’t find the time to work with anyone, so we sampled him talking instead and thought it might sound a bit like rapping.”
But their influences run deeper than that, which is a big part of what makes Settle such music-dork bait. Guy told us that D’Angelo’s Voodoo is their favorite album of all time. He also said that, if they could time-travel back to see anyone, they’d go see Slum Village in Detroit in 1998 (with the caveat that they “not get killed”) and to see garage hero DJ EZ spin vinyl in 1992. Additional influences can be found in the music they sample, which includes Kelis and J. Dilla.
Disclosure, in other words, does not create just run-of-the-mill club tracks. They’re intelligently aware of the house sounds that preceded them, as well as the soul music that informs what they do. The music they make is effortlessly radio-friendly without being too pop for the dance floor.