Genre: Electro House/UK Garage/Synthpop
Released: September 25, 2015
During the start of the decade the mainstream electronic dance music was a barren wasteland of monotony, in dire need of some brains; every refreshing oasis a weary ear found would turn out to be a Pitbull-shaped mirage. The saviour emerged in form of Disclosure: despite its unusual 6/8 time signature, their debut single “Latch” not only showed that Sam Smith’s skill set can be also used for good, but also proved out to be popular enough to become Top 40 hit in 15 different countries. The duo’s debut album Settle received universal acclaim upon its release and was showered with every accolade possible short of canonisation by the Pope. Even I thought the album was one of the best records of 2013, and the most refreshing debut in years. So their sophomore effort Caracal had alarmingly big shoes to fill from the very beginning.
From the very first listen it is clear that Caracal shares a myriad of similarities with its predecessor; same stylish beats and sleek production, with a varied selection of talented guest vocalists. However, where Settle was a curious collection of wildly inventive sounds and turbulent, unpredictable beats, Caracal comes off as restrained and standardized. The album is much more focused in its sound, but also loses a lot of the charm of the previous one in the process. The tempo has been seriously cranked down; while the previous record was in many ways more fit to high speed chase scene rather than on the dance floor, Caracal seems to be made to be listened while sitting on a lounge, being so cool and chill that the band probably should have gone with a penguin instead of a lynx when choosing the animal for the album sleeve. Not that the slower tempo necessarily incapacitates the song material: one of the highest points on the album is the song “Magnets”, which sets Lorde’s vibrant vocal delivery against the backdrop of a reserved beat and cold, lifeless production, creating a juxtaposition where the two h
alves beautifully complete each other. Still, overall the record feels like a watered-down version of Settle, a collection of valleys without the hills.
It appears that this was known by whatever party chose the pre-release singles for the album; the lead single “Holding On” is one of the more upbeat and energetic tracks on the record, echoing the tone of the first album. The second single “Omen” featured vocals from Sam Smith in an attempt to recreate the lab conditions under which the sleeper hit “Latch” was born. The singles lull the listener to the false sense of security in a way that, in hindsight provided by the full album, almost feels like false advertising.
I’m not saying that Caracal is a bad album, far from it: it is still well-produced and retains the distinct sound of the duo; it’s just nowhere near the quality of the first album. It’s like if your dog suddenly learned to write, but only used its ability to write sexist and racist messages on 4chan; while it’s still all very impressive, you can’t help but feel a tad bit disappointed.