Caracal released September 25th on PMR / Island
It’s impossible to imagine a world without Disclosure, so profound and wide-reaching has their influence been on the musical landscape this decade. Their extraordinary debut album Settle (2013) consolidated their place at the forefront of a new wave of electronic music. It topped the charts, won numerous accolades and ushered in a new age that opened up dance music for the next generation of young music fans while refreshing and rejuvenating the scene for the rest.
It’s amazing when you think they achieved all this as teenagers, just out of school. With youth - and they’re still only 24 and 21 - comes lashings of enthusiasm and an insatiable desire to push sonic frontiers and develop new ideas with the most exciting new artists without compromising their music by following the by-numbers dance music in the charts. With Caracal, their second album and the follow-up to Settle, they assert themselves as platinum-grade songwriters. “When you’re young you learn and progress quite quickly. The production and songwriting this time round is such a step up,” says Howard.
Caracal is a muscular and nuanced record, with a depth to it that will pin it to the canon of dance music history. It’s crunchy and gets under your skin. A proper album album, you might say. “We feel like a band now, instead of just releasing tracks for the club. We wanted to really step out with a solid body of work and tour for two years. We’re very much an album band,” says Howard.
Disclosure are still doing what they do best - taking house and giving it a massive injection of musicality - but there’s a renewed depth and skill to this latest work. “It’s not just musicality,” they say. “It’s songwriting in its classic form, songs you can play on the piano.”
Since starting out as Disclosure five years ago in 2010, their music tastes and influences have become even more wide-ranging and eclectic. Commercial and critical success opened the doors to connect with legends they’ve long admired, from Todd Edwards to DJ Premier and Nile Rodgers to Q-Tip. Their festival Wild Life sees them bringing Wu-Tang, Nas and newer acts to Brighton this weekend (June 6th and 7th) and across the world.
Away from their musical heroes, the guest spots on the new album are seriously exciting. While Settle relied more on vocal samples, as well as new artists they broke through, they’ve now got people queuing up to work with them. What’s the requisite attribute a singer needs to get on a Disclosure track? “As long as they’ve got soul and swag we’re down with that,” they say.
Nocturnal, featuring The Weeknd, was written in Alicia Key’s Jungle City Studios in New York at night. It sounds fitting and you can hear how the situation and surroundings informed the notes themselves. It’s an almost 7-minute disco reverie that twists and turns on a riff that bounces like jumping beans. Epic, ambitious and imaginative, this glitterball of a song shows off the newly pronounced roles within Disclosure: Guy takes the reins as producer, as Howard moves to the foreground of songwriting.
“We wanted to write songs with loads of singers so there are no instrumentals. We wanted to hone our songwriting skills,” says Howard. “When you get the chance to work with amazing people you want to make the most of them.”
'Holding On' features the Sacramento-born, Grammy award-winning jazz vocalist Gregory Porter. It’s a rapture of soul that shows how comfortable the brothers are in tripping between genres with confidence and style. Glacial synths and a galloping, energetic beat propel 'Hourglass', featuring Lion Babe. Hot new artist Nao features on Superego, a head-popping, endorphin-bursting fantasia with a massive break. Things slow down a little bit for ‘Omen’ and, in fact, no tracks on Caracal are the same speed, which adds to the feeling that the album is a sonic voyage that defies expectations.
“With dance and electronica, your genre is defined by a BPM. As Disclosure we want to be known sonically, for our sound. We want to go through a variety of speeds and even genres and focus on mix and production,” says Guy.
Sam Smith’s mellifluous vocals fuse with inventive percussions on ‘Omen’ before it erupts into one of the best choruses you’ll hear all year. The three days the brothers spent writing with Smith were a highlight of the writing process. “It was the most successful two days of songwriting we’d ever had,” remembers Guy. “We wrote five amazing songs, a few for Sam and Omen.”
The pressure must have been crazy in that room? “It was so not like that, “says Howard. “We thought, this is the most successful combination of people we’ve had in a room so why wouldn’t it work? Why can’t we channel that energy again?”
The multi-talented singer, songwriter and producer Jimmy Napes, from North London, was there too. “We wanted to do the whole album with Jimmy this time. He’s such a key part of the team and we have more fun in the studio when he’s there,” says Howard.
Disclosure smashed the stagnant state of the live touring circuit over the last few years which saw only heritage acts such as Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx headlining festivals and playing big gigs. Disclosure’s music lends itself to massive live shows and anyone who’s seen them live won’t forget the energy or vibe in a hurry. The last couple of years has seen them touring all over the world, non-stop.
Live, it’s not a plug-in-the-laptop-and-press-play occasion, the audience get a sense of improvisation and Disclosure’s more freewheeling and inventive approach to dance music. The new shows for Caracal will be even bigger and crazier, pinned down with pure analogue madness as well as huge choruses everyone knows the words to.
“Touring Settle gave us more of an idea of what shows and style of act we wanted to be,” says Howard. “First, we wanted to play live shows in night club, but now we know that even though we’re playing dance music we can present it in a theatre or a proper music venue.”
“We’re happy with how refined and slick the show had become but now we’ve got time to design a new one that’s even bigger and even better.”
As the culture in US changes, and moves away from EDM to a welcome Disclosure-fuelled return of the pioneering dance music genres full of character such as garage, house and techno with a modern twist, Guy and Howard will remain at the vanguard. How do they reflect on their success and remarkable achievements so far, such as selling 1.6million copies of Settle worldwide, numerous nominations for Brit Awards, the Mercury Music Prize and the award for Best Dance Album at the Grammys as well as high profile magazine covers and top positions on best-of year lists accenting a meteoric rise which saw them soundtracking summers and becoming the most talked-about band in Britain?
“We’re still getting better and there’s no point taking a break - reflecting will come right at the end,” says Guy.
Oh, and what is a Caracal anyway? It’s a rarely-seen desert lynx, they explain. They are nocturnal and hang out in pairs. It’s utterly distinguishable by its beautiful ears, that end in a black, narrowed tuft. Just like this animal, Disclosure are a rare breed, and with that they’re completely unique and utterly independent in what they stand for and bring to the landscape.
Interview by Zane Lowe / written by Lucy Jones.