While it wouldn’t quite be accurate to say Disclosure hit the big time in 2013 with their debut album Settle, the record did go platinum in the electronic duo’s native UK and they do seem to be a popular live act. In early 2016, it was revealed they would play on Saturday, April 16 & 23 during the Coachella festival in Indio, and they are the third artist listed on the bill, underneath Ice Cube and headliners Guns N’ Roses. (A few dozen others are on the bill for the day too.) Electronic music is all the rage these days, certainly, but most of the genre’s artists seem to be conquering the live arena without figuring out how to translate ticket sales into recording sales or streams. This could be a good indicator that EDM is a fad that will eventually pass; people like the experience (the drugs ecstasy and GHB have long been a part of rave culture), but for them the music itself is interchangeable — they’re looking to party, and any EDM will do, as far as I can tell. The masses never stay interested in the same thing forever, so I’ll bet EDM’s days are numbered.
My exposure to EDM is limited; I have never been to a rave or electronic music concert of any sort, nor have I ever taken ecstasy or GHB. What I have seen of EDM festivals like Ultra via clips makes me both cringe and laugh. (It’s not my bag.) Here’s the central problem: if you just took an EDM performance and released it as a recording (they turn up on SoundCloud), the content (i.e., the quality of the music itself, not the quality of the recording since it would obviously be live) would not be able to compete with what else the music industry produces. That’s why when Skrillex or Avicii releases an album, they actually make use of the studio and make sure the music works as a recording, with pop song structures. (As far as I can tell, EDM performances tend to emphasize the DJ stretching things out, and doing really spontaneous things like mixing in different stuff. In other words, there are no “songs,” since each performance goes somewhere different.) This really plagues EDM’s long-term prospects, since the artists’ performances and recordings don’t complement each other particularly well.
Other improvisatory, performance-based genres like blues and jazz ended up translating into recordings just fine; so far when EDM artists have made albums they have essentially had to entirely abandon what they do on stage. I can’t imagine those who enjoy the spontaneity and energy of the concerts (possibly while using drugs) will be nearly as entertained while they are sober by an album or song that, by contrast, is the same thing every time they hear it and shallow to begin with. I’m just saying the popularity of EDM is almost destined to be short-lived; as soon as the demand for seeing it in concert dies down, there won’t be much left for it. I actually admire Avicii quite a lot for having the balls to do something entirely different when it came to making his 2013 debut album True, since he incorporated live instruments. As a result, it wasn’t really EDM, but that’s why “Wake Me Up” did so well: EDM isn’t focused enough to have a future on the pop charts. By the time it does, it will have evolved into something else.
Shortly after I discovered Disclosure, I was at a party and their huge hit “Latch” (featuring Sam Smith) turned up on the playlist. Someone then remarked that “Latch” was everyone’s introduction to EDM or something to that effect. I was too polite to inform him that Disclosure actually isn’t EDM. Their electronic sound is more house, with an emphasis on groove. What has allowed them to achieve considerable chart success with singles (particularly in the UK) is their knack for overlaying a pop hook over a pleasant, reasonably sophisticated — or at the very least, interesting — groove. The primary criticisms I had in my review of their solid debut were that its 60-minute length was too long and that some of the grooves got pretty samey. Thankfully, the former criticism has been addressed; the standard edition of Caracal, Disclosure’s 2015 follow-up, runs only 52 minutes and 11 tracks. As for the grooves, the album does lose some steam during the middle third, but overall they’re even better than the last time around.
In fact, the first track, “Nocturnal,” is an absolute stunner. Featuring The Weeknd on vocals (Disclosure don’t sing much — other guests on the record include Sam Smith and Lorde), the song comes together insanely well, combining dark atmosphere with spectacular, electric theatricality. (It’s impossible not to imagine it as a great live song.) The first bonus track on the deluxe edition, “Molecules,” is also great if you decide to check out the 67-minute version of the album. Both songs will rank among my favorites of 2015. There are other good ones, as well, like the closer, “Masterpiece,” another one toward the end called “Superego” and the final song on the deluxe edition, “Afterthought.” The rest are pretty good too — there’s something deeply palatable about Disclosure; it’s hard to point to anything and say, “This is bad.” (Which is a hell of a lot more than you can say about Skrillex’s music.) Overall, Caracal is a real winner. Disclosure is a lot of fun, and I suspect they’ll have plenty of staying power.