ALBUM REVIEW: Disclosure – ‘Caracal’

Disclosure Caracal

What separates Disclosure’s debut Settle from their follow-up Caracal is the obvious reversal of roles the duo played in the production of both the albums. On Settle, Disclosure ran the whole show. Only using the all-star guest list when they needed to, their smart use of the right vocals struck a chord with listeners and spawned this years’ follow-up, Caracal.

Whether they did a good job of it or not is yet to be seen, although just in the first listen itself you know Disclosure isn’t running the game this time. Surrey-based Lawrence brothers Howard and Guy, who mainly dabble in deep house, garage and synthpop, rely on the charts with their second album. From guest stars such as Sam Smith, The Weeknd, Miguel, Gregory Porter, Kwabs, and Lorde, the duo has scoured the world to find singers sitting snugly right at the top of the charts to ensure that Caracal stays on top.

The album starts with the current chart-topper and the enfant terrible of R&B, Canada’s very own The Weeknd. On Nocturnal, the effort to mingle deep house and R&B is laudable to a certain extent. Despite the very nihilistic lyrics, The Weeknd’s vocals work well with the deep house sounds the Disclosure marketed to him. The amateur work on the lyrics make you cringe a little, but the delivery saves you the effort. The work on Omen ft. Sam Smith, the trio’s effort to match the success of Latch, is obvious. The larger than life vocals of Smith work well, the pop and soul in Smith’s voice edited to make for a fantastic follow-up. If The Weeknd takes you to the depth of despair with Nocturnal, Omen does the opposite. You can hear Smith’s soul in the chorus, while the pop comes in the verses and it is no secret why they handpicked him to repeat Latch‘s success.

It’s a surprise that Disclosure managed to produce fantastic results with R&B, soul, and jazz making for a perfectly crafted trio of songs that give the album a good start. American jazz vocalist Gregory Porter plays the deep house and garage game with Holding On and does a fantastic job at it. While the track is clearly EDM and garage to a little extent, the jazz vocals drive the song leaving the Lawrence brothers playing second fiddle to Porter’s voice. Lyrically speaking, Holding On is not strong. Hearing the uninspired rhymes in the chorus does not spark interest and the track would’ve been a B-side if it weren’t for Porter’s Grammy-winning voice.

NYC’s neo-soul sounding LION BABE features on Hourglass – Jillian Hervey’s harmonies playing out over a sawtooth bass solo and drum beats – a tame attempt at mixing genres. It is with this track that Disclosure starts to falter on Caracal, choosing to trade in tamer beats and subdued vocals for powerhouse vocals and strong beats that back them. They follow the same trick with Kwabs’ track Willing and Able. The Ghanaian-Brit alumni from the Royal Academy of Music brings textbook soul to the table, the finest you can bring mind you, but is met with less than stellar production from Disclosure. Sure there’s the African drum beat, claps and the looping EDM sound in the background, but the subdued sound does nothing to elevate Kwabs’ vocals. The reliance of vocal layering does very little to match the soul Kwabs brings to the track. With a little more effort and an alternate orchestration, Willing and Able would’ve joined the ranks of Nocturnal and Omen.

With a tribal beat, the same subdued EDM sound and breathy vocals by Lorde, Magnets sits snugly at the center of the album. While the sound is a departure from Lorde’s trademark pop-rock style, it does little to highlight Lorde’s skill as a vocalist as much as it does her songwriting. They’ve managed to craft a track that mixes elements of EDM, garage, pop, and rock, but it is this confusing mess of genres that makes you love the song for what it is. It does Lorde no favors, but Caracal benefits from the intelligent lyrics Lorde brings to the track and album.

The first track on Caracal that doesn’t have a musical guest billed to it is Jaded, and it perhaps is one of the best tracks on the album. With synthpop as its base, perfect vocals, lyrics, production and a La Roux styled Euro-pop sound, Jaded and its subdued sound is hopeful, although Good Intentions ft. Miguel is where the ship sinks again. You wouldn’t know it’s Miguel until you read the credits and the slick R&B artist’s vocal performance is lazy to say the least. What a shame that Miguel’s crooning is misused and makes you want to skip the track altogether.

Superego features Nao, an English singer whose baby voice might sound a little annoying in the chorus, but does an excellent job on the verses. The vocal play is good, if you forget the synthesizing at the end. Echoes features another unnamed singer who does a good job on the track. Mixing elements of synthpop, garage and disco, the track left me with echoes in my head and is a stand out track.

With Masterpiece, Brisbane native Jordan Rakei has a winner on Caracal. The Australian’s voice drips with sex and makes the songs an excellent mix of R&B and EDM on par with The Weeknd’s Nocturnal, dare I say even better. Jordan does something unexplainable to the song and makes it so good, that it makes Miguel’s collaboration sound like an afterthought. He’s better than Miguel at what he does, and we all know Miguel’s shtick. I can’t wait to hear what else Jordan has in store and will be catching up with his work shortly.

With three extra tracks on the deluxe version of the album, Molecules, featuring an unnamed singer, joins the ranks of the perfectly crafted tracks with no names attached to them on the album. Elements of disco, synth and garage make it a good dance track. American vocalist Brendan Reilly, who’s based in London, does an equally amazing job on Moving Mountains. Unlike Lorde’s breathy vocals on Magnets, Reilly’s vocals take you to another level making you appreciate the effort put into tracks that went into the deluxe version. Disco and EDM come to life on the final track Afterthought. Much like the title, the track may have been an afterthought once the all-star line-up was decided. Ominous sounds and loops make up a track that deserves a place on the standard tracklist and shows you what the Lawrence brothers are good at if they don’t rely on their star pals.

You may not like all of the tracks on Disclosure’s Caracal, but don’t miss out on the really good ones. Whether it is the vocal magic of Abel Tesfaye, Sam Smith, Jordan Reilly, Lorde, LION BABE, Nao or the unnamed vocal talents on some of the best tracks on the album, give Caracal a try. It doesn’t promise to be the best, but shows you where a shot at being the best can take you.

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