Ultimately, only one star matters on a great dance record: the beats. The follow up to Disclosure’s 2013 debut, Settle — the most potent club-pop fusion LP since the heydays of Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers — flexes a fantastically upscaled vocal roster befitting the duo’s arena-level success. But DJ magic sometimes takes a backseat to those Jumbotron personas. “Magnets” is a slight Lorde slow-jam, in spite of a nicely syncopated groove and a gracefully hiccupping hook where lesser DJs would’ve lazily dumped a bass drop. “Nocturnal” bumps along inconsequently, peaking only after the Weeknd disappears down a digital K-hole. Sam Smith’s “Omen” doesn’t make enough of its Stevie Wonder gestures. Even Miguel comes up short on “Good Intentions,” a downtempo house tease that never quite unzips.
But when the singers serve the grooves, the Lawrence brothers reassert their standing as the 21st century’s great house ambassadors. See the magnificent “Echoes,” a classic U.K. garage shuffle. (Alongside Jamie XX’s excellent In Colour, it’s another confirmation of Nineties nostalgia’s new vogue over the Eighties among pop thinkers, and hallelujah for that.) It’s sung by brother Howard himself, in a sweetly anonymous high tenor, rhyming “on and on” with “I can sing along” and smearing echo on the word “echo,” with a no-bullshit formalism that suggests the Ramones if they were British club revivalists. Newcomers Lion Babe rock a wicked deep house jam on “Hourglass.” Yet the surprise MVP is soul-jazz stylist Gregory Porter, who signs off on a brilliantly unleashed mix: “Holding On” stretches his chesty opening note over a full minute, and turns a circuit-stuttered “sh-shake it” into dizzying gospel-house testimony. Like most ace jazz vocalists, Porter knows how to let his collaborators shine, too.