Album Review: Disclosure – Caracal
Aside from extending an open invitation to shut up and dance, one does wonder about the principle function of the brothers behind Disclosure. After scoring world-beating success and ubiquity with 2013’s Settle, Howard and Guy Lawrence have crested a seismic wave of adoration, influencing a fresh raft of dance music flag-bearers and racking up an impressive roster of famous friends and wannabe collaborators. They provided a springboard for some of the year’s up-and-comers to become household names, while themselves receiving heroic plaudits as the breakthrough “revivalists” of house music’s 1990s boom.
All jolly good, but the question mark left hanging over proceedings regards the raison d’être of the Lawrence brothers themselves. What is the true essence of Disclosure, when all the glitz of their guest vocalists is stripped away? Perhaps Howard and Guy Lawrence are primarily concerned with supplying the beatmaking chassis to support a glossier surface supplied by their collaborators. Certainly, the theatricality of their guests occasionally obfuscates the rhythmic craft at the core of their sound. This shouldn’t automatically mark out the Lawrence brothers for criticism, and if Disclosure’s MO is indeed to largely supply only one half of the musical equation, then they certainly put up a strong game as a collaborative duo.
Where things are muddied, however, is when the beats behind the vocalists begin to wear thin, and on Caracal, there are moments when the brothers’ signatures begin to sound a little restrictive. The strongest beats can usually transcend repetition, but there are a few tunes on offer here in which Disclosure’s toolkit appears more limited than it perhaps did on Settle; if not entirely a case of diminishing returns, then at least a tilt in that direction. Tellingly, Caracal‘s major stumbling point is made apparent on the arrival of ‘Jaded’: the first of two tunes bereft of cameos, and where the Lawrence brothers’ lack of burning intensity comes into clearer focus. ‘Jaded’ falls into the traps left in the wake of Settle, sounding closer to the knock-offs attempted by the duo’s imitators than it does the work of the too-cool heroes behind ‘Latch’. Additionally, without a gutsier presence to propel the duo’s thumping dance to greater heights, the relative simplicity of their throwback style is laid bare, the thrill of their usual alchemy reduced.
There are a handful of moments on Caracal wherein the off-beat hi-hats and wubbing synths sound a little too familiar, and with the average tempo significantly reduced this time out, several of these songs lack the compulsive spark of the duo’s best work. Disclosure are much more effective when cutting loose, and though nothing comes close to matching the attitude of ‘White Noise’ or the energised pep of ‘You & Me’, there are some joyous moments in supply. Gregory Porter steals the show on the outstanding ‘Holding On’, in which the Lawrence brothers bring a gleefully gummy two-step to the boil. Porter’s jazz chops allow him to slip into Disclosure’s world with an effortless pizazz, and the result is a soulful jam that bubbles with charisma. As on Disclosure’s best cuts, it offers a convincing synthesis of artistic values: all personalities present complementing and accentuating the key qualities of the other parties. The Weeknd has similar (if less fiery) success on opener ‘Nocturnal’, which sets the table for Disclosure’s slinkier, smoother sound nicely, despite feeling slightly stretched as it passes its sixth minute.
Of course, in the broad spectrum of reviews Caracal has received, critics have responded differently to each song on the record. It’s something of an EDM Rorschach test, and as such, judging the album on the merits of each individual track seems a little moot: different ears will latch onto different flavours with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The album slaloms from the slinky, breathy simmer of ‘Magnets’ (Lorde) to the old-school strobes of ‘Superego’ (Nao), while largely sticking to smooth, keening slow jams, with Kwabs, Miguel and Jordan Rakei crooning like lovestruck soul-men. The overall effect is less compulsive than Settle‘s extravagant showcase: part of that album’s appeal was that it resembled a party in your ears with everyone invited, and its sprawling, saucer-eyed enthusiasm had ideas pinging from every surface. By contrast, Caracal makes an attempt to smooth down and streamline the edges of Disclosure’s music, with bounciness replaced with a thick, bass-heavy sensuality. In doing so, the Lawrence brothers succeed in making a record distinguishable from the first, with a fair selection of keepers in its arsenal, but they still haven’t found a surefire way of developing or advancing the tricks that they burst onto the scene with two years ago. All in all, Caracal is a decent follow-up to Settle, but don’t expect it to start fires burning with quite the same potency.
“Eyes on the hourglass.”
Posted on October 17, 2015, in The Music World and tagged Album Review, Caracal, Disclosure, Gregory Porter, Holding On, Lawrence Brothers, Lorde, Miguel, PMR, Sam Smith, The Weeknd. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.