Disclosure – “Settle”

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “When A Fire Starts to Burn,” “F For You”

A debut from a European dance band coming only weeks after Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” burned up the charts might not seem like a good decision. It worked. Perhaps it was unintentional, but Disclosure might be on to something. The British duo – two brothers of ages 21 and 18 – have perfected an album harking back to dance music of the 90’s, not unlike the aforementioned French duo. Americanized house and dance music (the abrasively loud forms of EDM and dubstep I embraced in college) is still very popular, but has a definite expiration date, and that date might be coming soon. As “Get Lucky” climbs the charts, Boards of Canada release a comeback and Disclosure release a well-anticipated debut on the same day, all signaling a potential return to more controlled forms of dance music.

There is really nothing new on this record. It greatly succeeds, however, as an exploration and combination of many different forms of dance and house music. The combined opening tracks of “Intro” and “When A Fire Starts to Burn” present an almost Prodigy-type of heavy, hip-hop influenced type of electronica. This doesn’t stick around, as the album shifts through various volumes and tempos, and with a whole and welcomed line-up of up-and-coming British singers.

“Settle” is, at its core, exactly what it wants to be, and that is an effective dance record. It even flows well as an album, something nearly every dance band seems to struggle with. It might be very long, but if it’s put on at a party, that will no longer be a complaint. The beats are cooled and controlled, with little invention going on. In a world now filled with Skrillexs and Diplos, that might be just what we need.

-By Andrew McNally

The Front Bottoms – “Talon of the Hawk”

(Photo credit: Property of Zack)

(Photo credit: Property of Zack)

Grade: C-

Key Track: “Twin-Size Mattress”

If you’ve never heard the Front Bottoms’ 2011 self-titled debut, then you might see this, their sophomore album, as a pretty unique blend of borderline-spoken word poetry, acoustic guitar, and beating drums. When this album was leaked by the band, however, the reaction was tepid. “The Front Bottoms” is one of my favorite albums, probably in my top five of all-time. A lot of my friends and I love this band dearly (I’ve even made friends because of mutual love for this band). On the opening chords of “Au Revoir,” a letdown was already starting. Bands often have their sophomore albums suffer from a bland rehashing of their debuts, and the Front Bottoms are no different.

The band – a duo in the studio – created a wholly original type of music on their first album, which is continued here. I can only call it “alt-emo folk-pop.” Their songs rarely feature anything more than acoustic guitar, drums and vocals that are barely sung, yet the band has a taste for making their music seem like it is always about to fly off the rails; like the musicians are about to lose control of their own song (For the best example, look up “The Beers,” their fastest and best song). The lyrics jump from sad poetry to non-described personal experiences frequently, even mid-line. And the poetic lines are often poignant, even ‘cutesy,’ still hitting the listener in the gut harder than they should.

But “Talon of the Hawk” is distinctly lacking. The lyrics are significantly cornier. They feels less poetic and more lame and forced, and the vocal delivery is not as random, with the verses formed into actual rhythmic lines. Musically, the band has never been proficient, as it is not their focus, but they are even less so here. The tracks on their first album are all instinctively catchy. On the second, they are almost all forgettable. Even the production quality, pristine, admittedly, feels better than it should. To their fans, the Front Bottoms are two goofy guys unaware of their own growing popularity, which does not come through on “Talon”s very professional recording style. The album’s only redeeming song is “Twin-Size Mattress,” both lyrically and musically strong. (The song is the album’s leadoff single. A video was recorded which, had I been standing ten feet to the right at a recent NYC show, I would’ve been in)

The album is dividing Front Bottoms fans. Some love it, some are left with a bad taste in their mouths. It is a serious decline from their first album in every way. Those previously unassociated with the band might find it much more intriguing and entertaining than those who ate up their debut. Reactions to pieces of work are, of course, subjective, but they are even more so with “Talon of the Hawk”

-Andrew McNally