Full Disclosure: the Lawrence brothers might have peaked

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The Disclosure brothers arrived in 2013 at a time where many exploratory, wide-eyed late-teens were searching for their place in life music, including your humble narrator. Through chart-assaulting two-step hits like Latch, White Noise and You & Me, Guy and Howard hit the sweet spot between electronic and pop music – accessible and danceable, with just enough edge to resonate with those searching beyond the charts.

And it all began with Settle, the duo’s debut album. The 14-track project boasted the aforementioned chart hits, alongside a slurry of exclusively-British, fresh-faced features. Sam Smith, AlunaGeorge and London Grammar in particular can point to their collabs as undoubted contributions to their breakthroughs. Familiar female faces Jessie Ware and Eliza (née Doolittle), slot eloquently alongside features from the then-unknown Sasha Keable, Sinead Harnett and Friendly Fires’ Ed MacFarlane.

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The album was outstanding, and was received with universal acclamation among critics, fans and the charts. And besides its selection of contributors, Settle’s success came from a truly unique sound that celebrated  garage, house and two-step to name a few, put together into one tidy pop-primed package.

Settle was then milked almost to the point of lunacy, with subsequent rereleases including a deluxe edition, deluxe Japanese edition, a digital special edition, US deluxe edition, and a US Target exclusive edition. At the tail end of 2013, we then also got a full-length remix album home to the likes of Hudson Mohawke, Flume and Larry Heard. Nobody seemed to mind too much however, as the new additions, as well as the ongoing live show, were still just as reportable.

This could have been an early sign however, that Disclosure’s Settle-era output had already started to dwindle. Their second album, 2015’s Caracal, would mark something of a departure from the unique, organic sound that put Disclosure on the map. Now with a reputation and a headliner-nearing status, their second album reflected this new-found fame, with a major-label gloss encasing the project’s sound and feel.

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There were a couple of reportable singles with Gregory Porter and Sam Smith, but that really was the extent of the highlights. Howard lent his voice to a couple more tracks than he should have, including the abrasively bad Jaded, while A-list features from Lorde, Miquel and The Weeknd were absent of any personality or charm. Kwabs, Brendan Reilly and Jordan Rakei did little to fly the flag for the Brits either.

Disclosure seemed to recognise the dramatic drop in quality, both in the musical output and live performances, by a relatively brief post-Caracal promotion, and subsequent retreats to the shadows. A few years later they returned with a slurry of incredible singles born out of vintage soul, African, doo wop and R&B samples. All were eventually packaged as an EP, Moonlight, marking a triumphant return to quality, with some of their best material in years.

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As such, the Disclosure community was lulled into something of a false sense of security; Moonlight was assumed by many to be a natural prelude to their long-awaited third album. We could all only hope it would follow this fresh take on their sound: lo-fi-esque, groovy and soulful, nodding at nostalgia while retaining and reviving the hallmarks of their Settle-era sound.

Energy arrived at the end of August 2020, and was unfortunately nothing of the sort. ‘[We would] write like 200 songs and pick the ten best’ is how Disclosure described the recording process, and that’s unfortunately exactly how the album sounds. As they themselves allude to, the feel of ‘seeing what sticks’ is prominent.

The Lawrence brothers are fighting with their identity, trying their hand at too many avenues of electronica, and resulting in a non-sensical collection of past and present personas. Scattered and aimless, absent of any cohesiveness or direction, the project flirts and fights with the original, once-adored Disclosure sound, the aforementioned mood of Moonlight, and the Khalid-collaborating pop era of today.

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This leaves Disclosure in a position of persona-less purgatory. They’re no longer that edgy, genre-pushing debut duo, nor are they polished, sell-out label favourites. They don’t sell millions of records or top charts, nor do they hit the ‘heads’ or the raves in the same way they once did. And even though they seemed to ‘save’ their sound with an exciting reinvention courtesy of Moonlight, Energy collided all of the aforementioned Disclosure eras into a frustrating flop, one that leaves the Lawrences no closer to reclaiming their crown.

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