Let’s face it: Nobody can replicate the fireball that Disclosure shot out of the gate two years ago, not even the Lawrence brothers themselves. Even now, Settle feels like a milestone. It drew dubstep-level fervor to honest-to-goodness house music, even if it was house music for people who didn’t care much about learning house music’s roots. It was the record that launched Sam Smith’s career. That guest-heavy debut sparked a fire both in Disclosure’s native UK and here in the States, and on their second record, Caracal, Howard and Guy try to strike up the same flame.
Caracal makes an honest attempt at gliding on Disclosure’s initial burst of success. The Lawrence brothers bring in another roster full of star power — everyone from the Weeknd to Lorde to Miguel shows up — but none of the standard edition’s 11 tracks stands out as a flyaway hit on par with “Latch”. Remember how annoying and simultaneously addictive that “dah-dah!” sample could get? Remember how Smith’s desperate falsetto chorus was an ear-viper sinking its fangs into your hippocampus? Disclosure shy away from that level of risk here, opting instead for one of the year’s classier and tamer mainstream electronic sounds.
As producers, Howard and Guy Lawrence sprinkle a little more glitter on their palette this time around. The negative space that kept weirdo tracks like “Grab Her!” going gets filled in with big clap-along beats and chintzy hi-hats, wobbly bass and sparkling treble. The BPM stays high but the stakes feel lower, as though Disclosure just showed up to make sure everybody had a good time tonight — no weirdness, no drama.
Repeat Smith feature “Omen” makes an easy fit for the radio, though its melodies are squarer and its lyrics more predictable than “Latch”. Same with “Holding On”, where Gregory Porter rhymes “make it” with “fake it” and “break it” with “shake it” at the chorus, while the Lawrences’ keystrokes whine bluntly behind him. The more interesting moments come from the less likely pairings. Newcomers Lion Babe lend dizzying harmonies to a loosely clattering beat and a sawtooth bass solo; London’s Nao spikes “Superego” with her crimped alto; and soul singer Jordan Rakei drips honey all over the smooth closer “Masterpiece”.
Lorde’s feature comes on “Magnets”, the single at the center of the record that doesn’t so much weave the New Zealand singer’s voice into the mix as it lets her ice skate on top of it. “Pretty girls don’t know the things that I know,” she whispers menacingly at the pre-chorus before the beats crash in. And when they do, the artificial drums almost seem to follow her percussive syllables rather than the other way around. “Let’s embrace the point of no return,” she concludes, and it’s the closest the record gets to reckless abandon.
“People love watching a fire burn,” said Eric Thomas in a motivational speech that Disclosure sampled on Settle’s “When a Fire Starts to Burn”. Caracal doesn’t exactly spread the fire that the nascent act started back then, but it keeps it smoldering at a steady pace. Disclosure has found the perfect center of the Venn diagram of house music and mainstream pop. This is music you can play at the club and play for your mom; it won’t take you anywhere you haven’t been before, but damn if you won’t have fun getting there anyway.
Essential Tracks: “Hourglass”, “Magnets”