Disclosure have nabbed praise (and critical kudos of a Mercury Prize nomination) this year, but for all that their debut album stands as a terrifically good first effort, it falls to another duo to deliver what feels like this year’s most consistent dance effort.
Now on their third studio LP, Saul Milton and Will Kennard – aka Chase & Status – have always demonstrated a keen ear for bringing disparate elements together in one cohesive package. 2011’s platinum selling No More Idols saw them tripping deftly between the bleak, guitar-tinged plaintiffs of the Plan B featuring End Credits to the bass-heavy club-soul of Let You Go in a heartbeat. It made for a formidable plan of attack, and one whose versatility they are more than up to the challenge of equalling on Brand New Machine.
From brimming soundsystem workouts like International to the giddy indulgence for early ’90s house vibes on Count On Me, the duo display a uncanny knack for tapping into a rich seam of nostalgia – a record-box approach that suits their production style well. There are flirtations with garage on Blk & Blu and a nod to the US with the sweaty bass stylings of Major Lazer collaboration Pressure. A word on the collaborations too – unlike so many of their contemporaries, there’s never the sense here that the drafted-in vocalists might eclipse the tracks themselves; the duo employ them with the skill of a mechanic selecting the right tool for the job as opposed to resting on their laurels and allowing a figurehead of a singer steal all the praise. Brand New Machine presents itself as a tightly run ship, with Chase & Status firmly installed as its captains at all moments.
But let’s turn back to the ’90s references, because it’s here – more than anywhere – that Brand New Machine reaches its greatest heights. Deeper Devotion – coming late on in the running order – is a delight of a track; recalling Adamski’s Killer with its opening electronic pulse priming an untempered run of acid house piano and an almost endless run of samples. Milton and Kennard’s love of their source material is never plainer than here – such is their skill at recreating the dusty, battered sounds of fondly remembered decades-past with so much vibrancy.
Indeed, it’s the latter reaches of the album that offer many of its best moments. Breathing pairs an ethereal, disembodied vocal with a breakneck beat – the kind of twilight-painted urban soundscape you could easily imagine popping up on the likes of Channel 4’s Top Boy. It’s then left to What Is Right to settle into an intoxicatingly good place somewhere between Massive Attack and Moby’s more downtempo moments, with singer Abigail Wyles laying down a vocal that easily equals efforts from London Grammar’s Hannah Reid and Emeli Sandé on Disclosure and Rudimental’s albums respectively.
Chase & Status may have achieved much of their crossover success with pounding clubland floorfillers, but the joy of Brand New Machine – which certainly doesn’t lack in this department either – is that it sees the duo just as capable at the low-key stuff. And it’s this versatility that showcases them still at the very top of their game; a quiet, easy confidence in their abilities and a collection of productions straddling just about every dance music touch-point from the past 25 years.