Some five or so years ago, brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence played their first ever live show under the incredibly hip pseudonym ‘Disclosure’ at Camden’s distinguished Lock Tavern. In 2012 they collaborated with then-unknown vocalist Sam Smith on a song which went on to become this decade’s prototypical masterpiece of electronic pop in the form of the iconic ‘Latch’ taken from their critically acclaimed debut album Settle.
The song and consequently the album, kick-started a seismic shift in the British music scene, paving the way for acts such as Duke Dumont and Clean Bandit to become household names, allowing for a much-needed re-emergence of dance music which was otherwise controlled by the likes of David Guetta and LMFAO. Disclosure were nominated for a GRAMMY for their contribution to the genre and played over 50 festivals last year, and it seems that they have no intention of looking back. With the weight of world seemingly on their shoulders and the anxiety of second album syndrome looming, Disclosure present their latest release Caracal, in which it appears it is very much business as usual for the boys.
Much like their first album, a scan down the album tracklist offers a surprise mix of guest vocalists, from familiar names such as Lorde and Miguel to some largely unheard of ones such as Jordan Rakei and Nao.
Picking up exactly where they left off in 2013, the feel of the whole album is structurally and melodically very similar to that of Settle. It is a little more daring in certain areas and there are some aspects which make it feel slightly more measured and mature. But honestly it is fantastic to hear those absorbed synths over that wobbling bass and that flickering percussion which has kind of become their signature sound.
Man of the moment The Weeknd lends his vocals on the opener ‘Nocturnal,’ and sounds as if it could slide nicely at the tail end of his recent release Beauty Behind the Madness. The Canadian crooner pretty much had the summer in his back pocket, with ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ storming the charts across the world and he certainly isn’t stopping here. Graceful, poetic and charismatic, The Weeknd starts the album on a high and acts as a teaser for what’s in store.
The recognisable ‘Omen’ comes next, which is essentially Latch 2.0; the ever-impressive and recent Bond songster Sam Smith takes us for a little stop off in familiar territory and continues to move the album at a delightful pace. Having heard this across our airwaves over the past few months, the placement on the tracklist is a clever one by the Disclosure boys and keeps the album relevant; a musical page turner if you will.
The thrilling start to the album continues with the velvet tones of jazz singer Gregory Porter. His vocals on ‘Holding On’ are gorgeously smooth, and married with that contagious Disclosure sound, it is the duo at their best; absolutely and overwhelmingly infectious. If you had to describe Disclosure’s music in five or so minutes, it’d be best done with a track like this. Soulful, intelligent and melodic, it is genuinely delightful to be able to dance to dance music like this. Over the past few weeks it has become my go-to track as soon as the clock hits 5 o’clock on a Friday night after a long week in the office, both club and chart ready, it is unashamedly catchy and outstandingly brilliant.
A few more guest spots appear in the form of hotly-tipped soul duo Lion Babe with ‘Hourglass’ and another with Kwabs feature ‘Willing and Able.’ The latter doesn’t hit you as anything special however; the Londoner’s vocals seem more a formality than anything. I’m not sure what it is about Kwabs but I can’t quite put my finger on him. He is undoubtedly a talented and solid singer with all the right qualities to make him a genuine force however he lacks that edge that every soul singer possesses. Whether it’s the sharpness of Al Green or the innocent vulnerability of Otis Redding, he lacks magnetism and personally I’m not convinced by him.
Taking a break from the guest features, Howard himself takes the mantle on ‘Jaded,’ again classic Disclosure in its sound, and could fit nicely as a B-side to an older song such as ‘F For U.’ In similar vein ‘Superego’ could be the counterpart of Settle’s ‘White Noise.’
Nao’s light, fun and friendly vocals echo those of Alunageorge’s and feels more like a longing romantic gaze across the dancefloor opposed to an animated shape-cutting shuffle through the middle of one.
‘Moving Mountains’ is a tad unexpected however a welcome detour though a road less travelled by the duo. The whole song is a massive 3 and a half minute crescendo which builds and builds and builds as if every fibre is slowly being squeezed out of the beat until we take lift off and sky rocket toward intergalactic ecstasy. If ‘Holding On’ is the midnight party then ‘Moving Mountain’s is the 3am comedown. It represents a step towards a maturity and a foray into the lighter side of things. It is refreshingly new and infinitely more atmospheric; again, it is intelligent and undeniably wonderful electronic music.
Musically ‘Bang That’ sticks out like a sore thumb and is the only song that doesn’t quite fit on the album. It almost sounds as if they’re trying to be something they’re not, parading as some kind of wicked EDM phantom over what is otherwise a cleverly structured record. The Howard brothers are better off leaving the obtuse headbanging techno to those nutters that frequent Tomorrowland and Ultra Festival and stick to producing quality, soulful house.
Settle made it okay for people other than boozy and coked up electro ravers to fill house clubs and bars all over the UK and I’d even go as far as saying that these guys are singlehandedly responsible for the explosion of house and dance music over the past few years. They completely and utterly capture the essence of the whole movement and for me their sound will always be associated with a certain period of my life, which is probably true for a lot of others too. A large part of the reason why Settle was so successful was because of the timing; it was fresh, exciting and captivating all at once.
Where this leaves Caracal then is sadly far, far behind. As this goes to print, a palpable amount of the Top 40 is coming from the upper tiers of the dance echelons, with house and electronic driving the charts left, right and centre. Unlike Settle this album will not go down in history as an instant classic however it is a valiant effort by the Disclosure boys. I think they’re certainly responsible for putting the ‘dance’ back into dance music and I’d be surprised if this album doesn’t get the plaudits it deserves by reaching the top of the album charts anytime soon.
Caracal is available on iTunes now.