Disappears – Irreal (Kranky Records)


If you’re keeping stats on Disappears you’ll know that Irreal is the Chicago band’s fifth full-length album since 2010, and their second consecutive release to shed the  Stooges, shoegaze and Spacemen 3 influences which were so prominent on their first three albums. Irreal presents me with a large problem, because I can’t decide if it’s any good or not. It’s certainly an impressive record, and I can’t think of another one in recent memory that captures the sound of modern life as well as Irreal does. The songs are discomforting and largely detached from human emotion or warmth, which is probably what life in 2015 feels like for many people. Brian Case’s vocals rarely venture beyond sinister spoken statements, drummer Noah Leger is practically allergic to standard time signatures, and the guitars are usually a series of slow-drip clangs and scrapes. It’s a hard album to place into the continuum of music history, but if I had to draw connections to other bands I’d say the Disappears are mining similar territory to Miles Davis’ electric band from the ’70s, but only if they were thrust into the art-damaged world of early-80s No Wave acts like Sonic Youth and The Swans. Now here’s the rub: While Irreal is an impressively constructed album, it’s so “post-human” that it’s almost impossible to enjoy it. Its probably not an album the band meant to be enjoyed either, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. So, at the end of the day, I don’t know how to define the album. Is it a great work of art? Is it unlistenable? Is it an achievement? Something you would only listen to for self-punishment? Is it all of these things? I don’t really know. Maybe its inability to be easily defined and understood is the album’s real accomplishment.
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Disappears – Era (Kranky)


 

Era is Disappears’ fourth album in as many years, and their first to show signs of wear and tear. The Chicago band reached a high point with Pre Language (my favorite album of 2012) but Era trades in that album’s in-the-pocket rhythms and concise song structures for a much looser atmosphere that favors openness over melody and intensity. It gets off to a strong start with “Girl”, a typical Disappears-style song with Brian Case’s vocals echo-plexed to the point where he sounds as though he’s coming apart at the seams. The next six songs tell a different, and far more frustrating, story. The biggest offender is the nine-and-a half minute “Ultra” which comes across like a lesser “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, with repeated lyrics asking “Does it end together?/Does it end soon?” – a very valid question. It would be easy to blame the drop-off in quality on the loss of Steve Shelley (ex-Sonic Youth) who manned the drums for Pre Language and then left the band. That could be a factor (replacement Noah Leger is fine), but I’d point a finger at the razor-thin production that limits Case and Jonathan Van Herik’s textural guitar playing; a strength on previous albums. Without that element, the songwriting sounds weak and Brian Case’s limited speak-sing vocals are over-exposed.

Disappears – Pre Language (Kranky Records)


Pre Language

I was somewhat dismissive of the first two Disappears records, but then I suddenly “got it”. What I originally thought was monochromatic and minimalist because of rudimentary skills, I came to see as a purposeful attempt at a singularly dark and hypnotic mood, and the more I listened, the more I grew to love that mood. Pre Language, the band’s third album in three years, welcomes Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth as their full-time drummer. Shelley, who toured with the band in 2011 before entering the studio with them, is an invaluable pick-up as his skillful drumming allows a few new shades in the band’s palette, and he forms an air-tight rhythm section with bassist Damon Carruesco that favors groove and repetition over noodling, recalling great less-is-more combos like Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit from Can or Peter Hook and Stephen Morris from Joy Division. Vocalist Brian Case (ex-The Ponys) sings like the offspring of Thurston Moore and John Lydon (not Johnny Rotten – there’s a difference), and what his voice lacks in range it makes up for in detached “cool”, adding a spooky vibe to the slow-drip of personal favorite “Minor Patterns” and riding the waves of shoegaze squall on “Hibernation Sickness” to perfection. It may not be a huge hit, but for those in the know Pre Language is the first album in 2012 worth getting excited about.

Tracklisting:

  • Replicate
  • Pre Language
  • Hibernation Sickness
  • Minor Patterns
  • All Gone White
  • Joa
  • Fear of Darkness
  • Love Drug
  • Brother Joliene

Disappears – Guider (Kranky Records)


Guider continues down the same path as Disappears’ monolithic 2010 debut, Lux; even sharing the same thirty-minute run-time. Their songs, usually just a few simple effects-laden guitar chords and a shout/sung vocal buried in murky production – aren’t technically exciting; however, even if nobody in the band is likely to be auditioning for Led Zeppelin anytime soon, credit them for sticking steadfastly to an approach that combines the minimalism/amatuerism of proto-punk with krautrock repetition. This comparison really comes to fruition on “New Fast”, which sounds just as much like Neu! covering a song from the first Stooges album as it does The Stooges covering a song from the first Neu! album. The album ends with “Revisiting”, a fifteen-minute number that approaches the trance-inducing genius of Spacemen 3. Guider isn’t likely to become one of the cornerstones of your collection, but it’s definitely worth checking out if records by the bands mentioned above are.

Disappears – Lux (Kranky Records)


Disappears, a Chicago group featuring members of The Ponys and The Boas, are lucky their debut album is getting released at all. They were the last band signed to Touch and Go Records before the label’s collapse, leaving them in limbo until Kranky Records picked them up. Their debut, Lux, is a monolithic beast of Stooges-influenced proto-punk, submerged underneath a billowy cloud of reverb; perhaps not all that dissimilar from the first albums by The Go or The Black Angels. At twenty-nine minutes, there isn’t a lot of time for mucking about and the band sticks heartily to the basics: a repetitive beat, a riff and a simple, barked vocal. There’s not much variety from song to song, and the album’s monochromatic sound becomes a liability around the halfway point; and that liability grows with each additional similar song from there on in. Lux is still likable for fans of psychedelic proto-punk, but an album this short really shouldn’t be appreciated like it is – in small doses.

Tracklisting:

  1. Gone Completely
  2. Magics
  3. Pearly Gates
  4. Marigold
  5. Not Nothing
  6. Lux
  7. Old Friend
  8. Little Ghost
  9. New Cross
  10. No Other