Disclosure set the bar for house music with the release of their debut album Settle in 2013. Star-studded with guests who would go on to become household names (Sam Smith, AlunaGeorge, London Grammar, you know the story), Settle dressed a classic genre with a modern, poppy sheen. Despite the prevalence of vocal appearances, Disclosure members Guy and Howard Lawrence decked each track with future garage and 4-to-the-floor instrumentals. They struck lighting in a bottle, establishing a benchmark for all house (and really, all EDM) producers to reach.
Fast forward two years and a few months later, and we’ve got their sophomore album Caracal. There’a a common term in music for second albums that fail to strike the same gold as their predecessors: sophomore slump. With Caracal, the Disclosure brothers hit a brick wall, sacrificing progress and evolution in favor of radio-friendly hits that suck the energy out of their representative sound. Instead of trying out new instrumentals or song structures, Caracal simply doubles-down on the vocal features and rinses and repeats the basic “verse->chorus->verse” composition. Worst of all: their production, once brimming with spine-tingling flourishes, takes a backseat to their guests.
To help break this album down, we’ve opted for a track-by-track review. Read more below:
1. “Nocturnal” (featuring The Weeknd)
This is basically a post-pop The Weeknd song featuring Disclosure. Instrumentals akin to the Max Martin-helmed “I Can’t Feel My Face”, “Noctural” highlights The Weeknd without giving Disclosure room to breathe. This opener is chock full of characteristics Weeknd-isms (aka self-depreciating lyrics), but Disclosure goes offer a brief interlude toward the end to highlight some disco vibes. A miss, but destined to be a radio hit.
2. “Omen” (featuring Sam Smith)
This track follows in the footsteps of Disclosure and Sam Smith‘s giant crossover hit “Latch”, and it does a decent enough job of following it up. Sam Smith goes into over-singing territory, but at least Disclosure balanced the vocals out to give their production some room to breathe. One of the better tracks on Caracal.
3. “Holding On” (featuring Gregory Porter)
What a misleading first single. “Holding On”, featuring jazz singer Gregory Porter, feels like a natural extension to the work on Settle. Fast-paced high-hats, smooth vocals, and near-perfect delivery. Oh what could’ve been…
4. “Hourglass” (featuring Lion Babe)
Another highlight from this otherwise middling work, “Hourglass” teams the LION BABE team up with the Disclosure brothers to make some magic. LION BABE singer Jillian Hervey soars on this track, fitting well with the mid-tempo beats provided by the Lawrence brothers.
5. “Willing & Able” (featuring Kwabs)
These last couple of songs really do paint a false picture of a great album. Up-and-coming British vocalist Kwabs guests on this track, and really gives his all in one of Disclosure’s best slow R&B tracks yet. Equipped with a bit of a baritone voice, Kwabs delivers some creative lyrics on giving one’s all to a relationship. Other down-tempo tracks on the album fail to match the caliber of “Willing & Able.”
6. “Magnets” (featuring Lorde)
What a disappointment. Disclosure and Lorde should’ve been a match made in heaven, but this collaboration marks one of the lowest points of the album. Lorde provides typical, edgy lyrics, but phones it in to the point of boredom. Disclosure doesn’t fare any better, slapping poorly mastered drums and synths to make a mess of a song. Better luck next time?
One of the better parts of this album is witnessing how much Howard’s vocals have grown. He sang a little bit on Settle tracks like “F For You” and “Confess To Me”, but he really shines in this album. The first of his leading tracks is “Jaded”, an anthem dedicated to all the producers hiding behind ghost producers. The lyrics are a bit too on-the-nose, but the message is timely and much appreciated.
8. “Good Intentions” (featuring Miguel)
Miguel represents one of the leading voices in the post-R&B world, so why did Disclosure swing such an egregious miss when pairing up with him? Miguel sounds great as usual, but doesn’t have much room to play around in Disclosure’s sleep-inducing melodies. A falsetto heard in the background sneaks up as the track nears its end, a haunting hint at the potential of this track.
9. “Superego” (featuring Nao)
Disclosure sure love highlighting their rising British contemporaries, and most of the time their efforts work out. Such is the case with “Superego”, a catchy show-stopper with vocals provided by Nao. This tune speaks to Disclosure’s ability to deftly navigate catchy vocals within mesmerizing garage production, and we only wish the brothers had pursued this direction across the entire album.
Was “Echoes” a cut Settle track? The second track featuring vocals from Howard, “Echoes” displays all of Disclosure’s best tricks in grand view: bouncing percussion, high-speed trajectory, and vocals that just mesh with the house instrumentals. We’d argue “Echoes” is the best track off Caracal, but it does chart familiar territory a bit too much to earn that praise.
11. “Masterpiece” (featuring Jordan Rakei)
One of the slowest tracks on the album, “Masterpiece” entertains most of the time. Jordan Rakei joins Disclosure’s up-and-coming British stars, and he makes a strong case for being the “next” Sam Smith. The only downside to the otherwise great “Masterpiece” is an energy-killing bridge to the chorus, where Rakei drops the track’s title with surprisingly ham-fisted delivery.
The third track hosting Howard’s vocals, “Molecules” does a great job in being a catchy song that’ll stay in your head for days. Other than that, it marks the same lines set up by the myriad indie-pop and indie-dance producers and bands that got popular over the past several years. It might have been better served as a song from a Howard Lawrence side-project.
13. “Moving Mountains” (featuring Brendan Reily)
“Moving Mountains” debuted on the BBC a few months ago and went on to be largely forgotten, and we can’t blame the music fan here. Brendan Reily gives a lesser version of what Kwabs and Jordan Rakei do in previous tracks, and the dreamy soundscape will put you to bed before tempting your feet to the dance floor. This penultimate track feels like an afterthought, which leads us right to…
The final track is also the last track to feature singing from Howard, and it largely falters. “Afterthought” draws comparisons to the Settle closing track “Help Me Lose My Mind”, but it falls far within that closer’s shadow. The first half finds Howard going through the motions, but its ending refrain at least ends Caracal on a semi-high note. Ultimately the title of this track sums up our opinion concerning Caracal: good vocals, but Disclosure’s production and instrumentals, once a beacon of not just electronic music but music as a whole, is an afterthought.
Listen to the full Spotify stream of the album below: