Image Credit: Island Records 2020
From the first few singles I heard off of Disclosure’s latest album ENERGY, I was curious.
I’d never really gotten along with their previous material, finding it to be mostly unadventurous and lacking any kind of character, however singles such as the raucous ‘My High’ and afrobeat influenced ‘Douha (Mali Mali)’ peaked my interest. I was hoping that this record would show the duo in a new light, taking more risks and creating more exciting and varied tracks.
Was I right? Well, sort of.
Disclosure’s latest album is an odd one. At face value it’s a dance record, but with clubs and bars looking emptier than my wallet, now seems like the wrong time to drop a project like this. It feels purpose built for a nightclub, layered around the aesthetics and sonics of nightlife and as a result feels somewhat disjointed in a post-clubbing era.
Nevertheless, perhaps the album’s strongest suit is how it manages to conjure that dance floor energy on almost every track, with vibrant instrumentals and bass-heavy production making me long for the days of a good old Kuda Tuesday. From the first booming 808s of ‘Watch Your Step’, it’s like being transported back six months ago and into that distinctly British clubbing atmosphere. Bass rumbles as vocal melodies dance around a minimal house piano, swelling into enormous choruses and euphoric breakdowns. ‘Lavender’ continues this theme, with LA artist Channel Tres hopping on another danceable beat to deliver a slick and punchy set of verses. It’s a song that oozes charm and swagger and I can’t help but love it.
There’s also a lot of great pop tracks scattered across the album as well, such as ‘Birthday’ which works the duo’s signature aesthetics into a more mellow package. Kehlani is great and the instrumental feels more rounded and clean than some of the others on the album, with Syd complementing the track perfectly. It’s mellow, yes, but still carries enough of that euphoric Disclosure energy to feel like it could captivate a dance floor.
It’s not all your usual nightclub fodder, thankfully, as Disclosure try their hand at a heady mix of genres with a varied roster of multinational musicians. There’s the garage revival of ‘Who Knew?’ which sees Chicago MC Mick Jenkins flow over a classic, two-step garage beat. Like a ‘Ladbroke Grove’ or a ‘West Ten’, it captures that garage nostalgia and results in an utter banger. While it’s not exactly home turf for Jenkins, his style suits the beat well and makes for a great listen.
‘Douha (Mali Mali)’ is an equally strong addition to the tracklist with a 90s French house influenced instrumental and an incredible vocal performance from Malian singer songwriter Fatoumata Diawara who brings her distinct style to the project. This is something later built upon with tracks such as ‘Ce N’est Pas’, ‘Tondo’ and ‘Etran’, as the duo mix West African influences with dance, house and hip hop.
There’s even the odd proper hip-hop cut in the mix, such as the raucous and heady ‘My High’. An electrifying and chaotic mix of house and hip hop, a rowdy beat jostles with equally rowdy verses from Slowthai and Amine, who truly shine on this track. Amine brings a slick and polished flow, brilliantly contrasted by the utter chaos that Slowthai delivers.
If I’m being brutally honest, this song has been the soundtrack to my summer.
Rap legend Common even makes an appearance on ‘Reverie’, delivering a smooth and effortless flow over an equally smooth instrumental. Disclosure cut back a bit on this one, stripping back the instrumental and giving Common more room to breathe. It’s a nice change of pace from the bangers preceding it.
Unfortunately, with ENERGY there’s as many bricks as there are bangers.
From the pointless remixes, half-baked interludes or just crap tracks - the latter half of this album is weighed down with filler such as the Flower Boy-esque ‘Fractal’ and generic dance track ‘ENERGY’ which brings an uninspired take on the genre.
Other tracks just feel underdeveloped, such as the initially intriguing ‘Ce N’est Pas’ which promises so much, but never really goes anywhere. Then there’s the tracks that are so close to being great, but are just let down by some sloppy production choices or poor songwriting. Take the irritating and naff “Whooooosh” transitions on ‘Tondo’ that sound like they come from an outdated drum and bass compilation.
Then there’s my least favourite part of the whole album - the Khalid tracks.
The Khalid tracks which close out the album are by far the biggest disappointment with this entire project. They aren’t bad, but they feel disgustingly safe and undo all of the excitement the early tracks on the album gave me. Earlier tracks were vibrant, and saw the duo experiment with house, hip hop, garage and dancehall, even bringing in West African influences and a wide range of voices and cultures. The Khalid tracks are the antithesis of this, taking no risks and doing nothing worth talking about. I don’t like Khalid. Maybe it’s just my taste, but I feel like these tracks detract from the energy and excitement the album has worked so hard to cultivate.
As I stated at the start of this review, this album is an odd one. It promises a lot and for the most part delivers, however a few bricks weigh down what would otherwise be a great house album. With some more meticulous cutting, this could have been a brilliant 12 track album rather than a bang average 20 track one. It’s very playlist friendly (pull the songs from the genres you like and don’t listen to the rest of it) but doesn't hold up well to a full play through, but that’s fine - it’s not made for that.
This is an album that thrives on that nightlife energy, the club friendly instrumentals, danceable production and catchy hooks. These tracks feel destined to be spun in nightclubs, auxed at pre-drinks and cranked at house parties. Unfortunately, in a post-clubbing era it feels without a real purpose. This being said, it still manages to evoke those all too distant memories of nightlife and trigger that part of your brain that just makes you want to get on the dance floor. I can look past some of the naff or slightly unadventurous tracks because, for the first half at least, this album is a lot of fun.
And while I dance around around the kitchen, rapping along to the Slowthai verse much to my girlfriend’s amusement, I can’t help but enjoy what Disclosure tried to achieve with ENERGY - even if the end product falls short of my expectations.
Best Tracks: ‘My High’, ‘Douha (Mali Mali’), ‘Who Knew?’, ‘Lavender’
Worst Tracks: ‘Know Your Worth’, ‘Talk’