Disclosure knows what works for them — a radio-friendly combination of rolling house beats and soulful vocals. While the response to this template on their first album, Settle, was overwhelmingly positive, following the same mold on a second record may have been a misstep for the English duo. As is sung on “Echoes,” “Such repetition calls for concern.”
Bringing back Sam Smith, as well as numerous other heavy-hitters, Disclosure is flexing their newfound star-power. Artists like The Weeknd, Lorde, Miguel and Gregory Porter all make cameos, each catering their voices to Disclocure’s electro-soul sound. The record’s first track, “Nocturnal” feat. The Weeknd, is by far the longest song on the album and plays like a remix of a remix of a pre-existing song by the artist. It plays on both of the artists’ strengths — Abel Tesfaye’s syrupy vocals and Disclosure’s funky-house beats.
The second track features Smith of “Latch” – “Omen” is clearly trying reconjure the popularity of it by highlighting Smith’s silky voice and Disclosure’s blooming, crescendo-ing beats. But while catchy and dynamic, “Omen” still lacks the playful, infectious nature of “Latch.”
“Holding On” feat. Gregory Porter is the only song on the album that doesn’t start with a recurring beat, but rather with a powerful cry from Porter. The track continues in typical Disclosure fashion from there on – establishing a basic beat, layering in a repetitive chorus and interjecting a brief bridge.
The peak of the record comes in Lorde’s feature on “Magnets” and “Jaded.” Lorde’s vocals are unlike any other featured on the album, cheekily bobbing in and out of the melody, with a staccato singing style that complements the succinct backbeats of the track perfectly. Moving into “Jaded,” the same kind of punctuated bass beats are used in combination with the duo’s UK garage sound and expressive vocalization.
From that point forward, little is done to break the monotony of each track. The rolling, punching beat of “Superego” and the smoky chorus of “Masterpiece” attempt to pull the second half of the album up from its droning trenches, but they ultimately fall short. The signature groove-based beats of Disclosure may have been able to carry them on Settle, but even with its myriad of big-name features, Caracal is in need of a little something extra. While not overtly unpleasant or dull, the tracks simply lack diversity. Caracal would be perfect sprinkled throughout a house party mix but, when listened to in one sitting, blends together into an unidentifiable mush.
Disclosure’s reliance on guest-star appearances caused them to forget what made them so successful in the first place — their innovative sound. Settle was so well-received because it pushed the boundaries of what Top 40 music could and could not do — “Latch” was a game changer. Instead of continuing down their inventive path, Disclosure stuck with exactly what worked in the past. Though Caracal delivers the kind of sound that Disclosure fans have come to love, it also leaves listeners reaching for something more — and it just isn’t there.