One of the more counterintuitive rules of pop music says that the least original artists often end up being the most imitated ones. That’s how Elvis can be simultaneously remembered as the person who made America rock and the guy who stole from the true creators of rock; it’s how there are so many Google results for the phrase “Oasis knockoff.”
Two bands that just released sophomore albums exemplify the idea that nostalgia and creative theft can be forward-thinking. When they arrived in the popular consciousness in 2013, Disclosure and CHRVCHES were widely and plausibly called “derivative”; today, they’re widely and plausibly called “influential.” What happens to a band when their use of old styles helps repopularize those styles?
The two British brothers of Disclosure duplicate the sounds of ’80s and ’90s Chicago house music and U.K. garage—skittering high-hats, melodic synth burbles, soul vocals. On their 2013 debut Settle, they placed those elements into tightly scripted pop-song structures with hooks that were as sticky as anything on the radio, featuring a handful of young vocalists who seemed on the verge of breaking through into stardom themselves. Though the icy, controlled template contrasted with the shuddering, bombastic dubstep sounds ruling mainstream and dance pop at the time, the creators didn’t really claim to be innovators: One of the brothers, Howard Lawrence, bragged to The Guardian that he could drop songs of theirs into a DJ set and “no one could name what decade they’re from.”