I HAD NEVER heard of this duo a fortnight ago, and a part of me wishes that were still the case. Having to critique music that inspires contrary viewpoints risks a kind of schism: I hate it, I love it; so… is it any good?
My interest was first piqued when I heard the single ‘F For You’, which bears a striking resemblance to a song I loved in my youth, Soft Cell’s ‘Memorabilia’. Yes, young folk, age is like that, you’re always chasing down shadows of peak experience glimpsed in mirrors decades hence.
Unlike that forward-looking track by synth-pop pioneers Soft Cell, which anticipated both house and techno, ‘F For You’ is a smooth, aqueous ride, despite the urgency of its bleeping rhythms. A smooth ride that happens to seduce the listener’s senses before he can even build up resistance.
As I write, the English duo’s debut album is sitting near the top of the charts, something I find really strange, considering they’re really a newfangled reiteration of the type of electronic production teams that have littered late 20th and early 21st century dance music – just a little more focused on their guest vocalists.
Well, make that a lot more focused on their guest vocalists. Almost all these 13 tracks (we won’t count the brief intro) has a singer to give it the gift of song, and make it palatable to an audience scared by the absence of epiglottal exercise. Eight tracks feature guests, all of whom bend their mouths around the sometimes glaringly commercial songs rather brilliantly; the other tracks are either sung by the duo themselves (Guy and Howard Lawrence, 22 and 19, respectively), or utilise spoken word loops.
Had the vocal performances been grafted on to a conventional commercial pop background, there would have been nothing remarkable about Settle, but the duo paint that background, instead, with a kind of superior electronic dance music that makes everything sound fresh.
Mostly, what they do is a startlingly beautiful micro-managed mangling of house and techno that takes in decades of dance tropes and so-called beat science and puts it in a blender. There’s the smooth surfaces of Detroit techno and the detailed audio landscapes of Berlin minimal techno, and lots more, together with the latest software and a genuinely great sense of sonic architecture: this is simply one of the best-sounding albums I’ve heard in an age, outside of experimental electronic music that most Disclosure fans would probably not even recognise as music.
On top of that, these fellows clearly grew up with ‘ambient techno’ bands like The Orb, Orbital, Underworld and The Future Sound Of London spinning on their parents’ players, because one of the great things they do is create a warm, luminescent, aquatic-blue, pitch-bending keyboard sound that’s really seductive, and works in effective contrast to the clinical, sometimes slightly austere utilitarianism of the beats and bass.
Despite its house orientation, Settle is rhythmically diverse, hi-def, spatial and a delight for the ears, but at the same time there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a cravenly commercial pop treat. Which makes it a bit like the best chocolate-on-chocolate ice-cream you’ve ever tasted, except that its cone tastes like freshly dug-up turnip. I don’t know what to make of that. GARY STEEL
Music = 3.5/5
Sound = 5/5