By Kat Freydl
I don’t care how many times you use the phrases synth beats or fusion of garage and house or modern revival of disco elements coupled with a pop-leaning layout and meaningful lyrics—you won’t demystify Disclosure. All of these elements are true, of course, and resonate with increasing fervor in each track that the duo produces, but they don’t quite explain what makes nearly every song they produce a hit. In 2013, the pair had three consecutive Top 20 hits in the UK (“White Noise,” “You and Me,” and “Latch,” clocking in at #2, #10, and #11, respectively). Perhaps some of it can be attributed to the brothers’ young ages at the time of the release of their debut album, Settle; At just 21 and 18, Guy and Howard Lawrence were, for all intents and purposes, rookies. To produce such a high-quality album, rich with kaleidoscopic beats, raunchy motifs, and frankly impeccable bass lines, was relatively unprecedented. Their ages have been beaten to death by the press, but again, this also can’t explain away the magnetic quality of Disclosure’s tracks.
In contrast, the upcoming release of Caracal has been prefaced by several pre-released tracks, featuring artists such as Sam Smith, Kwabs, Greg Porter, and Lion Babe. The released songs are moody, almost bluesy in their delivery, punctuated by syncopated synth stabs and the truly excellent beats which the pair is so well-known for. It is not tension, it is realization; they are not tracks you dance to, necessarily, but tracks that remind you why you were dancing in the first place. “Hourglass,” for instance, which features Lion Babe, juxtaposes a lively beat with emotional vocals, a staple of many of Disclosure’s best works. This is not to say that the album is devoid of dance-oriented tracks; “Bang That,” conceived to be part of one of Disclosure’s DJ sets, is a beat-based track that pays more homage to their house-music roots than the other songs on the album. Though the track skirts dangerously close to monotonous repetition at times, it brings itself home with periodic rhythmic shifts that keep the piece fresh enough to sustain itself.
The duo clock in at 24 and 21 as of now, proving that their claim to fame isn’t only their age. Though their talents verge on prodigious at times, the product of a musical upbringing, an interest in music theory and classical music, and genuine passion for what they do, Guy and Howard Lawrence have created an album that not only compliments but perhaps even surpasses Settle. The album is bleary summer nights where the colors bleed together like an impressionist painting, sweating out a fever, getting over heartbreak. It is subdued and passionate where Settle is invigorated and carefree.
There are multiple ways to be impressive. Disclosure has hit on many of them. Far from formulaic, their writing process has at times been less of a process and more of a chain of events, consisting of afternoon-long consultations with featured artists on their tracks leading to the production of a single in the span of one day; in the case of the aforementioned single “When A Fire Starts To Burn,” when schedules didn’t align for the Lawrence brothers to collaborate with a rapper, the duo cut up bits of audio from a motivational speech to create the illusion of rapping, leading to the creation of a video that featured a congregation having a spiritual experience at the behest of a Southern preacher, the repeated refrain “when a fire starts to burn/and it starts to spread/she gon’ bring that attitude home/don’t wanna do nothing, what they like” just barely kept from being monotonous by the lively beat overlaying it. This simultaneously illuminates one of Disclosure’s greatest strengths and biggest weaknesses: while the music coming so naturally to the duo spills into the sound and comes out in a way that appeals to the listener, the fact that many of the songs are created as parts of DJ sets or dance mixes can make them less pleasant to listen to as an album rather than hearing them in a club setting. However, this flaw is all but resolved in Caracal; the tone of the album is fuller and more somber—not just the party, but the moments after. “Willing & Able” feat. Kwabs pleads, “If you don’t feel it the same as me/speak now or hold your peace.” Unlike Settle, Caracal embraces vulnerability, set at an altogether slower tempo without sacrificing Disclosure’s signature garage style.
Full disclosure (pun 100% intended): I still haven’t demystified Disclosure for you, but maybe I don’t need to. Settle is full of songs that I would love to dance to. Caracal makes me feel okay about when the dancing has to stop.