Growing up in Chicago, house music was always a presence in my life. I remember every summer, hearing the Chosen Few House Music Fest blasting music from across the park and all of the old-heads in the city gathering in one place to dance to the music that they grew up on. In middle-school, a new type of dance music emerged in my life: EDM. Skrillex, Deadmau5 and Flux pavilion were everywhere and swept the country, taking over the lives of any young person. To me, there was never any connection between the house music of my parents and uncles and the “cool” EDM that felt powered by molly and partying until I heard Disclosure’s first project, Settle. Settle allowed me to see the beauty in what both genres brought to the floor and Disclosure’s gentle and respectful approach to house music felt honest in a way that most EDM never did.
Unfortunately, after Settle, Disclosure abandoned the house music sound. Their sophomore album Caracal was a boring mix of mid-tempo poppy tunes. The project boasted features from artists like The Weeknd, Lorde, and Miguel, who are all fantastic artists in their own right, but sounded completely out of place on Disclosure produced instrumentals.
It’s now been 5 years since Caracal and in that time Disclosure refined their sound. Their newest album, ENERGY feels like a course correction. There’s hardly a dull moment on the project and it’s an album meant to keep you jumping. Nearly every song has a featured artist and these features prove that Disclosure is tuned into the moment. Chanel Tres, slowthai, and Mick Jenkins are some highlights who deliver incredible features and add energy that was missing on Caracal.
ENERGY starts off with a bang. The opening track “Watch Your Step” features the legendary Kelis and brings back that mix of pop and house music that brought Disclosure their original acclaim. This track demonstrates the magic of what the group brings to the table; the vocal samples, the strong backing drum beat, and the tactically placed synths are all part of what makes every track on this album so successful.
The duo has also chosen to center Black voices on their newest project. This album is greatly inspired by African and diasporic voices, prominently featuring Fatoutmata Diawara, Etran Finatawa, and Eko Roosevelt. Rather than borrowing from the sounds of a culture without giving it credit, Disclosure credit and highlight the voices showcased on ENERGY. Each track truly feels like a collaboration, and this is even reflected in how each artist is credited. Rather than being included as featured artists, each performer is included as a main artist along with Disclosure. During the press run for this project, they have gone to great lengths to highlight their collaborators, which makes the whole album feel authentic. “ENERGY” is such an apt title for the project because it is the one through-line that makes each of these varied collaborations work.
The song “ENERGY” truly encapsulates the entire mission and feel of the project. For the vocal sample, Disclosure reaches back to the Settle, pulling a sample from the same man who spoke on their 2013 cut “When a Fire Starts to Burn.” In essence, they are admitting to a reset, they are returning to their roots in house, hip-hop, and jungle. On the song “ENERGY” synths cascade as a chaotic drum beat plays in the background and whistles add highlights in and space where the beat doesn’t hit. It’s an awesome song, and definitely one of the most fun experiences I’ve had with music this year.
Many of the songs of this album had been previously released, but hearing them all put into the context of a full-length project adds a lot to their story. The fact that this album even exists is extraordinary. Caracal cemented them as staples within the pop landscape. If they chose to, Disclosure could have made a career out of making average, mid-tempo dance ballads perfectly set for radio play. Instead, the duo took time to reflect and have come back with a sound deeply rooted in more interesting music.