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Howard and Guy Lawrence, the brothers better known as UK dance act Disclosure, feel alienated from EDM subculture - according to the press release for Caracal, their second album. They describe house, techno and garage as "genres with character" and aim to re-establish them as cornerstones of the Western dance scene, perhaps in opposition to the dominance of David Guetta et al in recent years. In fact, this is something that they attempted successfully on their debut release, Settle. The pair delivered on their mantra with concise and invigorating dance-pop singles. Their introduction to the mainstream, 'Latch', seduced both the commercial and underground music communities in equal measure, while its featured vocalist, Sam Smith, went on to become one of the most recognisable faces in pop music after its release. It makes sense, then, that Smith and the brothers Lawrence have collaborated once more to ignite Caracal's promotional process with 'Omen' - but as an individual experience it pulls back the curtain on an unfortunate theme that pervades one of the most anticipated albums of the year.


Which is to say, that for an album so intent on restoring character to an allegedly dormant subgenre, Caracal is surprisingly lacking in confrontation. The kinetic energy that propelled Settle through its lengthy, hour-long running time has been dampened somewhat this time around. The duo have all but entirely migrated from their previous usage of sample-based vocals, opting for an increasingly organic approach to working with their guests. A choice possibly driven by their desire to avoid comparison with EDM artists, but a choice that has unfortunately proven itself to be detrimental to the creative process as they take a backseat to the vocalists on board. Lorde, one of the brightest young talents in contemporary pop music, is restrained on 'Magnets', which is unusual for a song that hinges on the ability to lose control: "Let's embrace the point of no return." Disclosure's quintessentially hyperactive rhythms are notable by their absence, and Miguel suffers a similar fate on 'Good Intentions' as a result - it's a track that is all too eager to settle into its unsuitably mellow surroundings following an introductory synthetic brass fanfare.

Caracal is at its most dazzling when the group return to the sample-based methods that proved to be successful two years ago. 'Holding On', featuring BBC Radio 2 poster boy Gregory Porter, is exhilarating. Porter's voice rings out like no other performance on the album while Disclosure shift through several gears with relative ease - the momentum and impetus pulsates from every thudding kick drum. Settle was, after all, completely at home in the ears of every treadmill runner desperately sweating out calories, and 'Holding On' evokes that image once more. So too does 'Echoes', which is a thrilling exhibition of Disclosure's adoration of nineties' garage music - the skittish, stabbing chords are delightfully playful. The opener, 'Nocturnal', gives The Weeknd a chance to justify his rapid rise to commercial ubiquity and he takes it with both hands. He soars effortlessly from the powerful, synthetic springboard placed in front of him by the Lawrences, who have captured the stylish and smooth grooves from 'Can't Feel My Face', to produce a remarkably resonant and rich vocal performance.

But the momentum hinted at over the duration of this album is fleeting due to the reluctance to work within the boundaries of their previously winning formula. 'Hourglass', which utilizes expansive breakbeats and the soulful pipes of Lion Babe, is immediately stunted by 'Willing & Able', containing an instrumental that punches well below the weight of Kwabs' vocal capacity. There's a desire constantly present on Caracal to increase Disclosure's range as a musical act, but as an event, Caracal is underwhelming. It will maintain Disclosure's position on the commercial map in the short term, just as long as they receive radio play (which they will), but very little of this album actually achieves the driving force or captivating character that so prevalent on Settle. Dance music is ultimately concerned with freeing oneself from constraints and from demands - but by making certain choices Disclosure unfortunately imposed those very things upon themselves from the offset and stunted their potential.

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