Even before the release of their sophomore album, Disclosure’s impact upon the music scene has been greatly felt. Reintroducing ’90s deep house and garage to dance music, hoping to supplant that all-invasive EDM monster, their particular brand of hazy, tranced-out R’n’B was something that America was all-too-willing to embrace – unlike, say, Calvin Harris, who they didn’t really want to know about until Rihanna got involved.
While they’ve been producing for Mary J Blige and remixing for Usher in the year between Settle’s final single and Caracal’s first, rubbing shoulders with the A-listers hasn’t rubbed off on who they’ve decided to work with this time round; the bigger names are just left-of-mainstream, and there’s plenty of “Who?”’s to be found (which, to be fair, is what Sam Smith and AlunaGeorge were on Settle), as well as one obvious call-back. The odd thing this time around is just how hit-and-miss the features work out.
Album opener ‘Nocturnal’ actually suffers from The Weeknd’s presence, as the tetchy, glacial production explodes only when he takes a break between verses. Bringing on Miguel for ‘Good Intentions’ should have been a match made in heaven, but the track can’t seem to muster up enough energy to achieve the status of Bedroom Banger it so clearly wants to be. Meanwhile, ‘Omen’, with the return of Sam Smith, is by no means a bad track, but pales in comparison to their previous collaboration, only working its way half-as-deep into your system upon repeated listens as ‘Latch’ accomplished right off the bat.
On the other end of the scale, neo-soul duo Lion Babe brings a Jessie Ware-level of sensuality to ‘Hourglass’, R’n’B-newbie Kwabs pours that viscous voice of his lasciviously over ‘Willing And Able’, relative unknown Nao is a standout on the whip-smart, Tinashe-esque ‘Superego’, while Howard Lawrence himself (one of the two brothers that make up Disclosure) provides some of the highlights without the assistance of outsiders on the likes of ‘Jaded’, ‘Echoes’ and ‘Molecule’.
The garage-y clicks and snaps that provided the spine for their previous album have been mostly replaced by slinky drums and synths, the BPM rarely raising above a flutter, less suited to a dancefloor than the neon-lit bar of some 5-star boutique hotel. When things do liven up – such as on the Lorde-assisted ‘Magnets’, or bonus track ‘Bang That’ which is so upbeat it sticks out like a sore thumb – they’re some of the few times that the album actually makes you sit up and take notice.
Those beats are almost uniformly wrapped around lyrics for songs that reference some non-specific relationship, in some non-specific stage of development. The hooks are present and correct and repetitively catchy as ever, but very little of it makes an impact; the lyrics seem to be written with the sole purpose of rhyming, rather than actually having intention or definition.
In a way, the album title plainly represents the album’s issues. Caracal? Yes, it sounds cool, but is that it? Produced and arranged beautifully, it’s difficult to fully fault any of the tracks here – there’s no one skip-worthy song to be found – but it’s also difficult to point to any particular stand-out. Under the weight of expectation, they’re sure to disappoint their existing fanbase with what they’ve turned in; an album with vibes that are more in common with Zero 7 or DJ Shadow than the likes of Rudimental or Clean Bandit.
Can we blame them for wanting to switch things up? Of course not, but they haven’t stuck the landing because they’re still keeping one foot Settle’d, while trying to see what it is they want to do next. There’s a sense that they are already resting on their laurels, and regardless of how game-changing that first album was, at only two albums in, Disclosure have not deserved that rest yet. Expecting more of the same would sell some singles while they half-heartedly attempt to mix it up with something new; that’s something we can blame them for.