In June 2012, two brothers released an EP called “The Face.” Their remix of Jessie Ware’s single “Running” (2013) had already been tearing up dance floors for three months, and the duo, known as Disclosure, had been gathering momentum since 2010 in the underground house scene. However, with “The Face,” the duo were catapulted into the limelight. The soulful, funky four-track EP was unique and stood out to underground and pop music lovers alike.
In October of that year, they released “Latch,” the first single from their debut album “Settle” (2013), which featured pop singer Sam Smith. The track was a surprise hit and paved the way for the huge success of the additional singles and album that followed. Almost two years after its initial release, “Latch” took over the airwaves in the United States following Smith’s rush of popularity following the release of his worldwide hit “Stay With Me” (2014).
“Latch” was not the only success on “Settle.” The album rocked dance floors and radio stations alike by combining poppy cuts like “You & Me” with bouncy club hits like “When A Fire Starts to Burn.” The juxtaposition gave the album color and depth, and, were it not for Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” (2013), “Settle” may have been the biggest electronic album of 2013. Since then, Disclosure has been one of the hottest names in dance music.
“Caracal” is not quite as exciting as Disclosure’s previous work. All 14 of the tracks on the deluxe edition feature vocals for their full duration, indicating that Disclosure’s signature instrumental complexity has taken a back seat. Though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s a good indicator of the direction Disclosure took the album. Originally known for their quirky, flavorful underground music, they are now often categorized as a pop act, and at its core, “Caracal” is a pop record. Disclosure played this album very safely. Every song is solid, and some are better than solid, but none of them give the listener that rush of excitement that comes with hearing something really new and different.
However, not all albums are made to be revolutionary, so it is best to look at “Caracal” for what it is rather than what it could have been. In the context of being a sparky, interesting pop album, it excels. Ten songs are sung by featured vocalists such as Lorde and Sam Smith — all of whom deliver stellar performances — and four are sung by Disclosure member Howard Lawrence, who has not sung on any of the duo’s previous records. Though Howard’s voice sounds a bit flat compared to the other vocalists, the songs he sings are intentionally less reliant on vocals. It is also worth mentioning that the songwriting itself is strong, especially in the context of most pop music. Each song is written by a combination of Disclosure, Jimmy Napes (an unsung hero in pop music with writing credits on hits like Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” and Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be” (2014)) and the song’s featured artist. The result is an album of 14 songs with the same stylistic core, but individual splashes of color.
In the end, “Caracal” is a good album. The songs are well-produced and catchy. The vocal performances are strong and the instrumentals sound great, especially when compared to those in other modern pop music. While it is a bit disappointing that Disclosure didn’t take more musical risks — and there is no denying that there are points in the album where the songs fall a bit short — ultimately there’s nothing wrong with a solid album that does what works.