A caracal is a medium sized wildcat found in Africa, Southwest Asia and Central Asia. A typically solitary animal (though some have been known to stay in pairs), it's also a nocturnal hunter. What, exactly, does this info have to do with why Disclosure decided to borrow the animal's name for its latest album? Well, quite a bit, actually. On their sophomore set, the brothers Lawrence expand upon their house music sound, incorporating even more R&B and pop influences into their thudding, four-on-the-floor aesthetic while touching on themes of solitude, hunting for love and prowling the nighttime scenes in search of something more.
The set starts off with "Nocturnal," a buzzy, synth-filled groove that throws back to an '80s aesthetic that permeates throughout Caracal. The Weeknd kicks things off on the guest artist tip, delivering a pop-inflected vocal that sets the tone for what's to come. While the song boasts a big sound and bravado, the lyrics focus on a man who's finding his nightly prowls a bit lonely against the neon backdrop of the production. That loneliness and search for love (or lust) is a theme that plays out throughout the album. Gregory Porter ("Holding On"), Lion Babe's Jillian Hervey ("Hourglass"), Miguel ("Good Intentions") and Kwabs ("Willing & Able") each contribute offerings that touch on it in some way. Especially Porter, who's soulful jazz stylings become the perfect dance floor fodder on "Holding On," the album's fire starter of a first single.
Though the Lawrence brothers can almost do no wrong here, there are a few spots that Caracal falters. As much as we anticipated Jordan Rakei's collaboration with the duo, "Masterpiece" does neither any favors as the ballad misses the mark (especially with the superior "Moving Mountains" just two songs away on the deluxe album tracklist). As well, the signature Disclosure shuffle causes a few of the songs to blend together sound-wise, this is especially true of tracks with no guest features, like "Jaded," "Echoes" and the prophetically titled "Afterthought."
However, there are some positively inspired moments on the album where the duo explore other genres to great success. The island-tinged rhythm of "Magnets" gives Lorde a perfect palate to create a sultry stunner. Meanwhile, the aforementioned "Moving Mountains," which features on-the-rise vocalist Brendan Reilly, is a successful reimagining of quiet storm R&B (or at least as close as they can get to it) that shows that the duo can work with restraint just as well as they can with bombastic four-on-the-floor rhythms.
Overall, Caracal is a welcome return for the duo who took us by surprise in 2012 and has been rocking our blocks ever since. May they keep on the musical prowl and continuing moving the rhythm forward.