Album Review: Disclosure, “Caracal”

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For some reason, people seem to think that electronic dance music had the best potential to be the next best genre to merge with pop. The likes of Calvin Harris, Avicii, Skrillex and Diplo are scoring hits on pop radio, but the songs themselves don’t have a lot of personality and rarely leave a lasting impression. Some EDM can be worthwhile, but pop-EDM is just loud and hollow noise at the end of the DJ set. Little did pop music know that it had a club-ready genre that merges much better with the Billboard Hot 100: house music. The likes of Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx and Kavinsky focus more on using electronic music to make a smooth groove and enough room for a pop hook or two. The songs are more memorable because they go beyond the thumping beat for more texture and feeling.

This is where Disclosure comes in. The brothers Lawrence (Howard and Guy) released their debut album Settle two years ago to wide acclaim thanks to its funky bass lines, two-step drum beats and glowing synths. But what made the record cross over to some pop success is the featured artists singing actually catchy hooks and fully-formed songs like Sam Smith on “Latch,” and Aluna George on “White Noise.” Everyone from Madonna to Nile Rodgers wanted a piece of Disclosure’s rubber-funk house style, but Disclosure appear smarter than the average hot new DJs. For their sophomore effort, Disclosure decided to take the bright shining world they built on Settle and make it smaller, darker and surprisingly groovier.

From it’s black album cover with the stencil-drawn animal at the center, Caracal is a darker effort from the duo. Bass lines are lower and “wub-wub” out a bit more than last time. 75% of the record also features slower tunes, going for woozy lounge music to make-out to when “Netflix and chill” is unavailable. It makes sense, since most of the songs here are tales of dark and sensual love. Jimmy Napes, Disclosure’s frequent songwriting collaborator, pulls out some optimism in Sam Smith on “Omen,” where Smith sees a former-lover crying as a sign for him to swoop back in and salvage a broken relationship. Smith’s vocals are mostly falsetto, but ride the wave of the bass-drum two-step combo smoothly. The same goes for “Willing & Able,” featuring the much-lower and surprisingly soulful vocals of Kwabs as he sings about wanting to take a relationship a bit further, but only if the significant other is ready (“Don’t say you want me, don’t say you need me/If you ain’t ready, turn around”). “Magnets” has Lorde on vocals musing about embracing “the point of no return” as blipping keyboards and more hollow drums beat in the background. Hell, Disclosure can even make the transition of day to night sound sexy, as long as The Weeknd is singing the hook on opening track “Nocturnal.”

For those worrying Caracal doesn’t have any traditional Disclosure floor-stompers, rest your minds. First single “Holding On” has the bopping drum beat building up to the chorus when the drop picks up the pace. Having Gregory Porter’s heavy vocals helps too, as his heartfelt soul gives the song an extra kick. “Jaded,” one of two songs Howard Lawrence sings himself on the album, is a surprisingly bitter diss on the current state of electronic music. It’s a wonder to think who Lawrence is talking about when he sings, “Cause you’re fading/Don’t mistake me for a fool/The game you play has changed…Golden years left you behind/You cannot replace them/Face it or you’ll waste them.” The other featureless track, “Echoes,” features brighter synths piercing through the faster drum two-step. But Disclosure still brings it back to bad love as heard on “Good Intentions,” where R&B’s premier sex stud Miguel tries to apologize for sleeping around and breaking hearts.

If there’s one thing that holds Caracal back, it’s the lyrics. It’s all simple fodder of broken hearts, fighting for a loved one and bits of arrogance and attitude all around. But then again, why shouldn’t Disclosure be a little pissed off? Most of the electronic music on the pop charts barely registers as quality music, yet those guys are making the big money. Disclosure is one of the few saving graces of electronic music, with music you can dance to or get intimate with. When was the last time you felt something real from a Calvin Harris song?

 

9/10

Jon Winkler is a 22-year-old movie/music nerd in Southampton, NY by way of Merrimack, NH. He loves watching, listening to, dissecting, mocking and talking about movies, television, music, video games and comics. He enjoys a good cheeseburger, believes CDs and vinyl are superior, likes to make people smile if they're having a rough day, and is rumored to be Batman (unconfirmed).