The more thought that’s given to it, the more Disclosure never gave off the impression of an act vying for mainstream success. They more so came around in the right place at the right time, with a brand of house music that was more tactile and minimalist than a lot of what had preceded it, especially in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but 2013’s Settle arrived right around the time when deep house was picking up charting steam and left a perfectly-sized opening for Disclosure to slot themselves into. Because, even at the time, Disclosure were a lot more unconventional than many of their house peers, opting to release full albums instead of loose singles and creating more of a live presence within their music. At the same time though, the remarkable quick burnout that afflicts so many house acts still made its mark on Disclosure; their second album Caracal was nowhere near as much of a success as its predecessor despite grabbing names like The Weeknd and Miguel, and like so many before and since, it felt like another house act running its course after a brief blip of fame. With that in mind then, it’s been a bit of a shock to see how fully-formed Disclosure’s recent resurgence has been, not only in a pair of big production spots for Khalid, but also in their Ecstasy EP earlier this year that felt like a simultaneous reinvention and natural progression of what they’d already laid down. If nothing else, that EP established that if Disclosure were to properly return, they wouldn’t be playing the game to do so, and there’s actually quite a bit of excitement surrounding Energy because of that. Disclosure can be a really great act when they want to be, and coming back on their own terms with greatly diminished pressure fosters a lot of hope that that’s what might come here.
That’s pretty much exactly what Energy delivers too, even if callling it great might be pushing it somewhat. It’s certainly a form of Disclosure that’s placed hitmaking right out of view; you’d be hard pressed to identify anything on here that could be an obvious smash, but there’s definitely more consistency and freedom that comes as a result of that. It might even be Disclosure’s most even album to date, leaning more in the direction of indie-friendly dance acts like Justice or Groove Armada in terms of tone and vision, only with a spin that’s distinctly recognisable as the same act. As such, it’s far from a stampede back into the spotlight, but that doesn’t feel like the intention, and leaning into that makes for a body of work that stands out less but satisfies more.
On that note then, it’s probably worth establishing what Energy is trying to do, namely embrace its title in various ways that aren’t really connected (this is a house album after all), but work well in either bouncing off or contrasting with one another. At their core, Disclosure keep a lot of what made them hit in the first place, with the tight, often live bass and skittering drum pads pulling heavily from UK garage, but steeped in a distinctly skeletal deep house feel, but it’s interesting to see how that’s been built upon and what restructuring it all does for them. A track like Watch Your Step might be just as compact as normal in a tight foundation of bass and percussion, but with the former being rounder and warmer in tone and the latter having a sandy, almost live clatter to it, it’s a lot more smoothly propulsive in how it shuffles forward. Meanwhile, My High comes across as more ragged and carnal, not only in the sweaty thud of the bass, but in the noticeably grainy filters laid across already breathless verses from Aminé and Slowthai. Neither sound explicitly like the image of themselves that Disclosure have previously cultivated, but at the same time, there’s a certain vibe and, indeed, energy that still easy to pinpoint. That shows up in the crystalline greys and white of the synths on Douha (Mali Mali) and the clattering drums among the fiery Eric Thomas sample on the title track, elements that have been staples for Disclosure for a long time but are now deconstructed and recontextualised in really interesting and occasionally unique ways. It’s not a foolproof tactic for them, as the closing pair of Birthday and Reverie show in how generally flaccid and forgettable they both are, but Energy generally manages to stretch its overarching concept by a decent amount, and shows an elasticity that might not have been seen in Disclosure to this degree.
Of course, it’s not like Disclosure are breaking their backs or anything, and there’s a lot of leeway given to the guest performers in how they choose to interpret the already tenuous theme of energy, if at all. That’s where this album really falls down, in that any semblance of a relationship that these individual viewpoints have with each other always end up kneecapped by another track further down the line, and the whole thing feels notably less complete when viewed through that lens. The first handful of tracks set it up, with Kelis and Channel Tres as the club players looking to pick up on Watch Your Step and Lavender respectively; Aminé and Slowthai as the loutish adrenaline junkies stampeding towards a major crash on My High; and even a melancholy Mick Jenkins looking to rekindle a lost love – or perhaps drown it away – on Who Knew. It would’ve been nice to follow that throughline, but the opportunity doesn’t get carried out, and Energy in the end just reveals itself another collection of songs swayed by whichever way its vocalist fancies. That does make for some strong moments, to be sure, like the velveteen slickness of Channel Tres on Lavender or the connections drawn to Africa from both Fatoumata Diawara and Blik Bassy on Douha (Mali Mali) and Ce N’est Pas respectively. On the other hand though, Kehlani just falls into a weaker version of her own R&B seduction on Birthday, and Common tries to wedge in his traditionally measured social commentary on Reverie only for it to feel really abortive. It’s a mixed bag, like these things tend to be, but the direction in which Disclosure funnel it all in yields more good results than not, and that does make a notable impression when the pieces are as deliberately disparate as they are here.
And make no mistake, that disparity is a recognised creative decision, both on the part of the listener and of Disclosure themselves. They’ve been an act who’ve been confined to a mainstream way of operating for years now, and Energy comes as an opportunity to cut loose and rearrange their established formula in any way they want. That’s what’s been done here, and overall, it’s easy to like what they’re doing, and how they’re pushing themselves forward without fully destroying what they’ve become known for. This feels like a natural step of an act in their position, and apart from a few hiccups, it generally pans out and makes for a pretty loose but enjoyable house album. It definitely opens up new avenues for Disclosure to take themselves now they’re letting their creativity take the wheel, and that’s an exciting thought. There’s always been something about Disclosure that hinted they were capable of more than the scene around them would allow, and now they’ve reached a point where that’s possible, they could be at their strongest position yet.
For fans of: Gorgon City, AlunaGeorge, SBTRKT
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Energy’ by Disclosure is released on 28th August on Island Records.