The last time U.K. house duo Disclosure was inside The Standard High Line hotel’s rooftop club Le Bain in Manhattan in 2013, a baby-faced Howard Lawrence had to be escorted in and out for the pair’s DJ set. (The act was promoting its 2013 debut, Settle.) He’s now of legal age stateside, which allows for less hassle at the twosome’s many gigs. “I don’t drink anyway,” says the 21-year-old, taking in the view of the Hudson River alongside his older brother and bandmate Guy, 25.
But that’s not the only change from then to now. Settle was 2013’s best electronic/dance album, introducing a sophisticated blend of garage and house that spawned dozens of imitators and helped launch the career of Sam Smith with the single “Latch,” which hit No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. On sophomore LP Caracal, the year’s most-anticipated EDM album, Disclosure’s sound relies more on pop and soul vocals — from an all-star lineup that includes Smith, Lorde, The Weeknd, Miguel and the Lawrence brothers themselves — than on dance beats. “We don’t want to be bottled in with everyone else as a house music duo,” says Howard. “There’s as much if not more R&B tempos as house on this album. All of our songs are ‘songs’ now; they’ve got singers and choruses, as opposed to just instrumental club tracks.”
The album kicks off with a six-minute Michael Jackson-inspired jam featuring The Weeknd called “Nocturnal,” written with the singer at Jungle City studios, where the pair were once again met by vistas of Manhattan. “We had this amazing view of New York, and the sun was going down as we were writing,” recalls Guy, explaining that the song ties into the album’s title, which refers to a wildcat that hunts its prey at night.
Lorde, who co-wrote “Magnets” with the brothers and their songwriting partner Jimmy Napes, was added to the album at the last minute, after she surprised them with a phone call saying she was in London. “I don’t think we knew how much of a great writer she was, or how involved she would be,” says Guy. “Every little detail was covered, down to the drums and even the volume levels.” Adds Howard: “She’s got a lot of strong opinions, especially for someone so young.”
There also is a repeat performance from Smith, on the soaring garage single “Omen,” which is No. 7 on the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart. “We’re like family — we’re always bouncing ideas off each other,” says Guy of the singer. But Smith is more than a friend and collaborator; his evolution from dance topline to pop-soul superstar is a huge inspiration. Says Guy, “All you need is the songs.”
Listen to music from Disclosure, and more artists from this issue, in the Spotify playlist below:
This story originally appeared in the Sept. 5 issue of Billboard.