Disclosure – ‘Caracal’ [ALBUM REVIEW + FULL STREAM] by Justin Chadwick @disclosure @justin_chadwick

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Close your eyes, rewind your mind to a few years ago, and recapture that revelatory moment that you heard Disclosure’s inspired music for the first time. Your introduction to the fraternal London-based house tandem of Guy and Howard Lawrence likely came just shy of three years ago when you first heard the dazzling single “Latch.” It was also your first taste of the precociously talented then-20-year-old crooner Sam Smith, whose career has been in non-stop ascension mode ever since. And if you’re like me, your ears were blown wide open by the heavenly track, as your faith in the power of music to stroke your soul and shake your spirit was instantly restored.

“Latch” was followed a few months later by the euphoria-filled, Mercury Prize-nominated debut long player Settle, which affirmed the Lawrence brothers’ penchant for crafting irresistibly addictive dancefloor bangers of the highest quality. Blessed by an impressive crop of collaborators including Jessie Ware, London Grammar, Eliza Doolittle and AlunaGeorge, Settle contains nary a throwaway tune and stands as one of the most thrilling LPs released this century thus far.

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So when Disclosure revealed plans for their follow-up album earlier this year, most of their devoted fans surely expected the group to pick up precisely where the adrenaline-fueled Settle left off two years ago. And while the group’s proven template of polished, soul-infused house grooves remains generally intact on Caracal, their sophomore effort is executed with a noticeably more tempered pace and subdued energy than its precursor. If Settle is the fire that burns brightly across the dancefloor for the entire duration of your hedonistic night out, Caracal is more akin to the flickering flame that signals the inevitable winding down of your evening. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it reinforces the Lawrences’ versatility in going hard and playing it soft.

Where Settle sustains the listener’s rapt attention from start to finish, Caracal proves an album of two halves, the first being the stronger of the two by far. Following the tepid album opener “Nocturnal” featuring current radio staple The Weeknd, the album hits its stride early with the gorgeous Sam Smith reunion track “Omen,” followed by the invigorating rush of the Gregory Porter enriched “Holding On” and the magnetic “Hourglass” with soulhead favorites Lion Babe. Together, these three tracks form the most enthralling fifteen minutes you’ll hear on the album, hands down.

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From then on, it’s a relatively tame ride with an abundance of downtempo grooves that, while expertly executed with sonic flourishes throughout, can never quite elevate the listener’s pulse beyond its normal BPMs. Even the bona fide star power of contributors Lorde (“Magnets”) and Miguel (“Good Intentions”) can’t save the rest of the album from devolving into pleasant-enough fare that leaves you feeling little more than ambivalent. The exceptions to this rule appear on the sleek “Willing and Able” featuring British singer-songwriter Kwabs and the melodic, recently released single “Jaded” which includes vocals courtesy of Disclosure’s very own Howard Lawrence.

With the brilliance of Settle, Disclosure established their own creative bar so astronomically high that their follow-up was destined to bring the brothers back down closer to earth, at least according to their own lofty standards and their supporters’ unfair expectations. Indeed, when juxtaposed with Settle, Caracal struggles to compete. However, relative to the lion’s share of new albums that have surfaced this year, Caracal unquestionably makes for a far more gratifying listening experience. So while it would seem that Settle’s massive success has proven both a blessing and a curse for the duo, Caracal is nevertheless a solid manifestation of the group’s sonic evolution that will keep us as eager as ever to discover the next chapter in Disclosure’s blossoming career.

Grade: B+

Notable Songs: “Holding On” | “Hourglass” | “Jaded” | “Omen” | “Willing & Able”

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