Caracal Album Review
Released September 25, 2015
Genre: UK House, UK Garage, R&B, Electro House, Synthpop, Deep House
Sophomore albums have a lot of pressure put on them, and while that can be unfair it isn’t arbitrary. After the release of a debut album like Settle, the eyes of the world were all on Disclosure, the undisputed club-bangers masters of 2013. The undeniable and seductive pull of “Latch” and the hallowed production of the UK garage-influenced “Second Chance” cemented the brothers’ place in the pop landscape as they simultaneously influenced and changed the power of an electro house song. Operating on the “featuring (insert relatively unknown artist name here)” framework, the brothers helped bring numerous artists, most notably Sam Smith, to fame as well as their own name. Nowadays, Disclosure can touch a nerve among Top 40 and independent music fans alike. Two years later, Disclosure are back in the game with Caracal, an album full of the occasional banger here and there but this time more focused on the meditative and introspective side of dance music, focusing on a specific moment in time during the thrill of the synths and flashing lights.
Disclosure have changed electronic music for the better. No mainstream artist has been so independent or detached from the stereotypical build, drop, and garbled mumbo-jumbo that plagues EDM culture today. Not that it’s a bad thing (that’s honestly up to you), but seeing a duo reach far out in their genre to provide soundscapes that can make you dance and admire how tastefully constructed the songs are is an achievement to say the least. The Lawrence brothers’ production remains concise and tight, yet it leaves a lot of room for free form instrumentation a la physical hi-hats and woodblocks. They return to the sounds of their predecessor Settle on Caracal, but this time they slow the tempo down, exchanging club bangers for moody R&B.
On “Omen” the brothers reunite with Sam Smith for a less intimate reprise of “Latch”, one that is surface-level affectionate but nonetheless infectious and artfully arranged. Other collaborations like on the track “Holding On”, featuring jazz singer Gregory Porter, explore breakbeat territory while keeping up with the atmospheric trademarks of UK house. The equally as enjoyable “Hourglass”, which dips into R&B territory with some help from LION BABE, is a sultry banger to say the least. However, Caracal is surprisingly filled with a considerable amount of filler.
Despite the meticulously arranged tracks featuring incredible production, these songs hit the mark with what you’d expect from Disclosure, and then some. It’d be unfair to ask Disclosure to make a Settle II and leave it at that for Disclosure are destined to explore more territories in electronic music. The Lawrence brothers have good taste when it comes to synth-selection (“Molecules”), succession of instruments, or even artist choice (pretty much the majority of Settle.) Yet what makes them so refreshing and compelling is how carefully constructed yet astoundingly simple these songs are yet how effortlessly they execute them.
Listen to Settle very closely and you’ll hear layer upon layer built upon each other in almost every track. Watch them live, and the two look like they’re having the time of their lives and it’s rewarding and compelling to say the least. On Caracal, some songs fail to stick and are shockingly run-of-the-mill.The opener “Nocturnal” can easily pass as a track from the new Weeknd album while “Magnets”, despite the incredible instrumentation, is plagued by Lorde’s typical dispassionate and bland vocals. Another surprise, the Miguel feature “Good Intentions” is nothing special and sounds nothing like a Disclosure track, as they trade their free-form UK house for some stagnant synths and some pretty bland dynamics.
It’s hard to have all eyes on you when constructing an album like Caracal, and it can be debated that the expectations for a follow up that can top Settle is to blame for the lackluster delivery from Disclosure. Caracal is a precautionary tale for the duo: an album that they spent a lot of time on, perfecting every flaw and improving every innovation, yet they probably spent too much time – trying so hard to not slump on the sophomore run, but inevitably constructing an unmemorable, safe, and thoroughly pleasant album. But honestly, since when is Disclosure known as pure background music? Caracal has stripped away the effortless fun for run-of-the-mill tracks specifically poised for accessibility and success, and the result is a half-baked album that had so much coming for it.
FAV TRACKS: Omen (feat. Sam Smith), Holding On (feat. Gregory Porter), Hourglass (feat. LION BABE), Jaded, Superego
LEAST FAV TRACK: Nocturnal (feat. The Weeknd)