Disclosure Continue to Refine Their Radio-Friendly House Music on ‘Energy’
On Disclosure’s breakthrough 2013 debut Settle, the U.K. duo of Howard and Guy Lawrence employed a sample of motivational speaker Eric Thomas, flipping his rhythmic speech into irresistible dance music on “When a Fire Starts to Burn.” Thomas makes a welcome return on Disclosure’s third album Energy, his words used to bring a jolt of positivity to the title track. “If you are alive, I know you ain’t reached your best/Right now, you should feel invincible, powerful, strong,” he says, the momentum building around him in a tumble of kick drums, congas, and rave whistles before shifting into all-out synth-driven house banger.
With Energy, Disclosure continue the refined, radio-friendly takes on house, U.K. garage, and more that made them stars, but find plenty of room to expand into new territory. As with Settle and its slower, more R&B-influenced follow-up Caracal, Energy boasts an impressive list of guest stars whose talents help make these dancefloor anthems into all-embracing global pop.
“Milkshake” R&B vet Kelis acquits herself as a worthy dancefloor diva on “Watch Your Step,” a breakbeat number that morphs into house, while L.A. producer/DJ Channel Tres brings his breathy purr to the Daft Punk-evoking “Lavender.” Many of the songs deal with connection and attraction, the powerful pull of bodies toward one another. “Get closer baby, I need you in my life,” Channel Tres sings in his feature.
Some tracks don’t come off quite as well: “Who Knew?” with its pillow-soft synths and soulful vocals, feels like a cast-off from Settle. There are also a couple of chilled out interludes that, while pretty, feel more like unfinished sketches than bridges between discrete sections of album.
But those instances are very few. One of the more exciting developments this time around is the presence of singers rooted in African pop traditions. “C’est Ne Pas” showcases the Cameroonian singer Blick Bassy, largely keeping things minimal with bass, beats, and effects, but Bassy’s silky vocals tie it all together. Even better is “Douha (Mali Mali)” with the Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara, who previously appeared on Disclosure’s 2018 track “Ultimatum.” Atop a propulsive house track of deep bass, laser-zap noises, and filter sweeps, Diawara sings in Bambara for a joyful ode to her homeland and the African diaspora.
Several of the other standout moments on Energy go to hip-hop performers. “My House,” featuring verses from the American rapper Aminé and the U.K. grime rapper Slowthai, is hip house that hurtles along over a jagged bassline that warps into acid squiggles. Kehlani and Syd team up for the R&B slow jam “Birthday,” in which the two performers wrestle with boundaries around their ex-lovers. “Can I call you on your birthday/Just to make sure that you’re OK?” they sing.
Energy wraps up with a surprising appearance by Common, who spouts his philosophy of positivity backed by a dreamy, new-age funk jam of bongos and watery droplets of synth. It’s a lovely, palate-cleansing comedown from the party that precedes it and evidence that, three albums in, Disclosure still have a keen understanding of the dancefloor’s ebbs and flows.