Review: Caracal – Disclosure

Few artists make such a large impact in so short a time as Disclosure. The duo began making music in 2010, gaining popularity with their remix of Jessie Ware’s “Running,” and they released their debut album in 2013 to widespread acclaim. Since then, they’ve become one of the biggest names in EDM, and have gone far beyond just making catchy tunes. Guy and Howard Lawrence, the two brothers that comprise Disclosure, have had a huge impact on both the electronic and pop scenes with their perfectionist production style and modern approach to house music.

I would most certainly call myself a Disclosure fan. Settle caught my attention, and since I discovered it, I’ve been listening to it on repeat. It’s one of those albums that appeals to an audience outside of its primary genre, and can garner fans from all corners of the musical realm. House music has traditionally been a fairly underground, EDM-fan-oriented style, with its driving beat and heavy synth bass lines. Disclosure’s take on this is more universal, and generally more accessible, which is what drew me in. It took me a while to enjoy the more garage-y cuts on Settle, but eventually, I got there. On Caracal, there are very few of those tracks.

I’ll be the first to admit, Caracal is a pop album. There may be garage and 2-step influences here and there, but there’s nothing akin to Settle’s “Stimulation,” or even the widely popular “When a Fire Starts to Burn.” Maybe this is because, since Settle, Disclosure has gotten considerably more popular, and they wanted to make something with a broader reach. Or, maybe, they’ve just changed as artists. Regardless, their sound is markedly different.

This becomes abundantly clear right out of the gate on the opening track, “Nocturnal,” featuring the Weeknd. The tempo is slower, the synths are sweeter, but the whole thing comes across as watered down. The track doesn’t pick up until around the four minute mark (this is by far the longest track on the record) when the song goes into an instrumental breakdown. This leads into a very danceable, euphoric bridge, like the kind we’ve come to know so well from the duo. While I wouldn’t necessarily label “Nocturnal” as bad, it shows off the problems with this newest project, and gets the record off to a rocky start.

Truly, making a more authentically “pop” record has its pitfalls. My least favorite track on here, “Jaded,” sounds almost lazy. The chorus on the melody is forgettable, as Howard chants, “Why, oh why, do you have to lie?” It takes what Disclosure does so well – the catchiness, the intricacy, the bass lines – and homogenizes it. Even some of the tracks I enjoy, like the Lorde collab “Magnets,” just don’t hit as hard as some of their older songs. It’s a well crafted tune; Lorde sounds calm and cool, and little hand percussion details in the production give the groove a kick. Still, the chorus lacks the dense garage influence that made Settle great.

However, on other tracks, it almost feels like the EDM influences aren’t necessary, and that Disclosure has grown out of them. The brothers come through with some of their catchiest tracks on this LP; “Superego” is infectious and uptempo, and Nao sounds like a more refined Aluna George. The lead single “Omen,” with Disclosure’s go-to vocalist Sam Smith, is possibly their best song to date. The tone of every instrument perfectly compliments each other, and the dynamics flow and dissolve naturally. The chorus is a testament not only to the Lawrence brothers’ songwriting chops, but to Sam Smith’s voice as well. His licks are tasteful and smooth; it’s the best I’ve ever heard him sound.

Disclosure has embraced not only pop, but Motown and neo-soul influences as well on Caracal. “Willing & Able” is a straight R&B tune. The drums are Dilla-esque, with just the right amount of shuffle in the groove. Kwabs’ inflection matches the instrumental, and though the whole song is very toned down, it’s one of the most captivating. Their knack for crafting a well rounded rhythm section comes in handy here. Songs like this show off Disclosure’s musical range, and work well as a counterpart to the more pop oriented tracks.

The closing track, “Masterpiece,” is not a direct statement about the album (they certainly aren’t referring to their own record as a masterpiece) but it does say something important. Jordan Rakei, a completely unknown singer whom the brothers discovered at an Australian karaoke bar, sings passionately over an instrumental so slow, you might not believe it was Disclosure. It’s more D’Angelo than Frankie Knuckles. Guy and Howard Lawrence have a sound and a style, to be certain. But I think their best music will come once they’ve really decided upon the balance of UK garage, house, pop, and R&B they want in their music. Until then, their music will sound a bit misguided at times, no matter how well written and produced the songs are.

8/10

Written by Preston Fulks

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