Throughout an 11-year career, English production duo Disclosure have never exactly tested dance music’s boundaries. Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence are classicists: torchbearers for the vintage influences they pull from Chicago house, Detroit techno, and UK garage. But within that crowded market they’ve made a niche for themselves by emphasizing the immediacy and familiarity of pop music. Call them the Starbucks of EDM: They’re not here to deliver a sublime gourmet experience, but a reliably sweet and satisfying pick-me-up.
And so it continued with 2020’s ENERGY, the third Disclosure album and a half-successful attempt at tapping into what made their 2013 debut LP so electric. Some of its best moments came from the duo’s reimagining of UK garage, but their dabblings with African house, French filter house, and North American hip-hop freshened up the standard fare. So if the Lawrence brothers don’t push at the edges of dance music itself, they do at least broaden their own horizons. In its own way, Disclosure’s DJ-Kicks mix album furthers the trend of eclecticism. This lively and effortless 58-minute DJ set feels like the id to the ego of their studio albums: Stripped of guest vocalists, radio-friendly song structures, and big-budget production, it’s like listening to what makes Disclosure tick.
Little surprise that what makes them tick is house music of all stripes. The 12 selections here pull liberally from acid, disco, garage, Afrobeat, breakbeat, and deep house, with hardly a lull in the flow. After a densely textured ambient intro from Spanish producer Pépe, London’s Harry Wolfman sets things in motion with mix exclusive “LOTF,” a warm and easygoing roller that brims with understated funk. It feels like the perfect opening tune for Disclosure, setting a solid 120 BPM baseline while reminding listeners this is more intimate than the festival stage. But the energy only climbs from there with some wiggly filter-house from the Netherlands’ Cleanfield and one of two original Disclosure tracks featured here. The bright, bubbly “Deep Sea” is a bit of an outlier in the duo’s catalog, with all the carefree samples and pillowy bass notes of a Pampa Records B-side. If this is the Lawrence brothers letting loose, they should do it more often.
Kicking off the final third of DJ Kicks is “Observer Effect,” another Disclosure original that further strips things down. Produced solely by Guy without his brother Howard, the track sounds like a DJ tool with just enough Trax Records influence to keep it interesting. Sandwiched between two of the mix’s most flavorful selections, however, “Observer Effect” is bland in comparison. “Mezmerized,” a 2005 cut by English trio Slum Science, is all slinky breaks and hip-hop samples set to a skipping rhythm, whereas “bRave,” by Londoner East End Dubs, livens things up with little more than an elastic, sub-rattling bassline and a swinging groove. Both tracks utilize techniques similar to Disclosure’s, but they land much more effectively.
Other tracklist highlights include &on&on’s gentle, synthy “Don’t Say a Word,” M-High’s soulful and stratospheric “Harmony in the Distance,” and exclusive mix closer “Recognise,” a jazzy jungle hybrid by Arfa x Joe. All three are recent releases that confidently point back to the heyday of their respective genres, mimicking those ideas while slyly folding in an update or two. Disclosure seems enamored both with that concept and the many ways it can play out, which makes their DJ-Kicks a consistent and entertaining—if not at all surprising—listen. As the mix shows, the further the Lawrence brothers expand their reference points, the greater an impact their tried-and-true formula can make.
Buy: Rough Trade
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