Disclosure’s latest: A darker shade of house

Sept. 28, 2015, 10:15 p.m.

It’s no easy feat to make a transatlantic hit record, featuring a formidable list of guest artists and slick, flawless production. And there’s no doubt it’s even harder to follow up such a record with an equally star-studded sophomore effort. But that’s exactly what Disclosure, the British synth-house duo, made up of brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, has tried to accomplish. “Caracal,” the full-length follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2013 debut “Settle,” was released this past Friday, and with an assortment of guest vocalists ranging from Lorde to the Weeknd, it looks all but destined to enjoy similar success. Buoyed by soulful collaborations and thumping, midtempo beats, “Caracal” doesn’t venture too far beyond the shuffling, sinuous brand of house music the duo trademarked on their previous release, but fans and new listeners alike will not be disappointed by what it has to offer.

The album opens with “Nocturnal,” a pensive composition centered around the Weeknd’s silky, melancholic vocals. Danceability is a hallmark of any Disclosure release, so it’s no surprise that this track, featuring R&B’s fastest-rising star, has the feel of a post-modern Michael Jackson number. “Magnets,” featuring the Australian singer-songwriter Lorde, supplies an intriguing dose of rhythmic complexity and teenage angst. “Pretty girls don’t know the things that I know,” she sings against an inventive, conga-laced beat. Indeed, if there’s anything that sets “Caracal” apart from “Settle,” it’s a slight darkness and dissatisfaction, present in edgier lyrics, slower tempos and shadowy synths. “Willing and Able,” featuring Kwabs, a Ghanaian-born vocalist who spent three years fronting the British National Youth Jazz orchestra, is another notable example. Slower and laced with haunting sub-melodies, it’s a captivating stylistic shift away from house-pop confections that characterized their debut release.

However, there’s plenty more of that to be had on “Caracal” — quite a few of the new songs echo the sterile, shiny tracks that propelled “Settle” to success. Award-winning singer Sam Smith, who last collaborated with the duo on their hit “Latch,” rejoins them for “Omen,” a soul-soaked standout with an impressive drop. The brothers blend Gregory Porter’s rich vocals with laid-back house beats on “Holding On,” not to be confused with Flume’s hit of the same name. Though the song is pleasant, well-crafted and just as easy to dance to as most widely-played hits from “Settle,” it lost my interest halfway through, reminding me of mellow, repetitive elevator music. “Good Intentions,” featuring Miguel, fell similarly flat, driven by hackneyed beats that felt more suited to a hotel lobby than a house party.

In sum, Disclosure has become a master of its particular craft, and it’s evident in this latest release. The duo’s game is vocal-driven, danceable, synth-laden house music, and they certainly play it well. The question is whether the two will pursue and expand upon the darker, more inventive moments that make “Caracal” a notable record, or whether they will continue to do what they do best — crafting shimmering electro-pop that transitions seamlessly from the underground to the mainstream. One thing’s for certain — the two, who sound just as at home in a little-known London club as in an upscale American hotel, are in no danger of losing their hard-earned popularity and success.

Contact Clare Flanagan at ckflan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Clare Flanagan is a desk editor and writer for the Music beat. A former band geek, she specializes in popular music and new releases. Clare is a sophomore from Edina, Minn. considering majors in Psychology or English. To contact her, please email [email protected].

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