Dance music theory expert Oliver Curry examines some of the key features of the duo’s latest single, and explains how some relatively simple tricks in their writing and production make their tracks work as effectively on pop radio as they do in a club.
If we were asked to pick one act which summed up the sound of crossover dance music in 2013, Disclosure would surely be close to the top of the list. The Lawrence brothers – Guy, 22, and Howard, 19 – have struck upon a winning formula for commercial success, incorporating poppy vocal hooks with classic house and garage sounds, all produced and mixed to the highest standards. Oh, and that iconic branding certainly hasn’t done them any harm, either.
Signed to PMR, the Island Records-backed label which is also home to Julio Bashmore, Cyril Hahn, T Williams and Jessie Ware, the duo have enjoyed chart success with the likes of ‘Latch’ and ‘White Noise’:
Their latest single, ‘You And Me’ features the vocal talents of London singer-songwriter Eliza Doolittle. In this edition of The Breakdown, we’ll look at some of the elements that make ‘You And Me’ so effective.
In a recent interview in The Guardian, Howard Lawrence refers to Disclosure’s tracks as “pop-structured songs in the style of house music and garage”, and it’s this simple formula that works to such great effect in ‘You And Me’.
The duo’s output incorporates both four-to-the-floor house rhythms (‘Latch’, ‘White Noise’) and more broken rhythms which often draw from 2-step garage (‘Tenderly’, ‘Flow’). ‘You And Me’ falls into the latter category, with a propulsive swung garage beat which changes subtly throughout the track. The beat’s almost constantly shifting, but to get an idea of the general pattern here’s a simplified transcription of a two-bar section in the second verse (kick in blue, snare in red, hats in purple and yellow):
The track follows a simple verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, bridge structure throughout. Most of Disclosure’s music follows structures typically associated with pop music: clearly defined verse and chorus sections and relatively short tracks. Although the brothers often draw on the sonic palette of deep house, they don’t tend to go for the drawn-out arrangements so often found in that genre. Instead, their tracks typically clock in somewhere around five minutes even before a radio edit; this is dance music which makes no apologies for taking inspiration from the instant gratification of pop.
In ‘You And Me’, a number of techniques are used to build anticipation of the choruses. Let’s look at a few things about the track’s verses that build up so effectively to the catchy hook of the chorus. Firstly, note that the verse features only one chord throughout (a Bbm7). Half way through the first verse, at 0:28, the rhythmic bassline is introduced, playing the Bb as the Bbm7 chord on top slowly develops a rhythm.
At the same point in the second verse (this time with the bassline already present), the subtle anticipation is created by changing from closed hi-hats in the first half of the verse to the open ones at 1:56.
The rhythmic Bbm7 chord sustained throughout the verse is also filtered, with the filter cutoff frequency gradually rising throughout to create the anticipation. When the vocals and kick drop out at 0:43, the now rhythmic chords are high-pass filtered in the same way:
These subtle changes prevent the verse getting stale or repetitive without distracting from the vocal line.
Next, let’s examine the development of the chorus and the phrasing of the vocal melodies.