Disappears: Era

[4 September 2013]

By John L. Murphy

Disappears sustains its somber phase on the sparse Era. As for a timeframe, this updates sounds from three decades ago: post-punk, Goth, hardcore, noise. It harshens an edgy, brutal tone. Gradually growing less accessible in its discography (which can be its own recommendation), Disappears favors aggression overlaying melody, if submerged in distortion and reverberation.

The cover of their first album Lux resembled the minimalist logo for Neu! That German band’s Krautrock and the second album, Guider—suggesting a My Bloody Valentine EP, Glider—plot two starting points for this Chicago band. Brian Case is joined by stalwarts guitarist Jonathan Van Herik and bassist Damon Carruesco. For this third full-length, Noah Leger replaces Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley on drums.

“Girl” begins the seven-track album. Full of shouts, as if “my god” might be shouted as much as “my girl”, it conjures up chaos. “Power” reminds me of industrial proto-punk Chrome, exaggerating the menace of Case’s vocals, which mannered and drawn out may appeal to fans of this crepuscular approach. However, the song does not depart from a measured beat until halfway, when the guitars start to jiggle. Variety’s needed to offset sameness of such a dismal track. Intentionally dreary, it could still benefit from a spark in the dark.

That may betray my preference for propulsion. “Ultra” nods to the band’s earlier work, more beholden to whooshes and whirls, over loops barely discernible as groans or squeals. Suddenly, a filtered mechanical voice breaks into the murky grind. It could be German, it could be English. While this does not depart much from the slow tempo of “Power”, the difference matters: the pace gradually increases as textures incrementally build into nightmares, and the chanted, disdainfully muttered lyrics circle back on themselves into an hex. Simple, and kept so by the rhythm section and basic fills on guitar. Good mood music for a cranky mood, as often on this venerable label, Kranky.

The title track evokes a cinematic atmosphere. Again, the gloomy, echoed vocals prove an affectation; for me, this twilit trend threatens cliché, as in pale predecessors when I heard them in the early 1980s. The guitars manage to rise above this with a ringing, repetitive ambiance at the end.

Continuing in this style, “Weird House” plays off the vocals with a call and response burst, and guitars which rouse themselves off the drums for a harder impact. Joy Division’s rhythms in their first years can be heard, and this ratty grumble in the instrumentals makes for a slightly perkier result, emphasizing a riff to better effect. Disappears preferred this muffled energy in the best of their previous recordings, and I prefer it too.

The contemporary feel of the metronomic instrumentation opening “Elite Typical” shows promise: vocals remain the same, but the band appears willing to push the song along rather than get lost in a miasma. The guitar spins under and once in a while above a percussive trot, and while the song rarely reaches for sonic clarity on an intentionally over-processed production, the beat works: when Disappears lets itself stretch out into longer passages, it applies its talents best.

Speaking of metronomes, the clicks and hums of “New House” carry the listener into midnight. As expected by now, vocals threaten. “Do you remember” becomes an ominous inquiry. Bass plucks and guitars chime over a tapped drum until a hiss emerges and more groans. “It’s all around you now. A forest of light won’t protect your shroud.” Heard at the right, and dark moment, as much in this genre, this conjures up effective menace. “A new house in a new town” suggests less than a bargain hunter’s reward for whomever hears this lyrical declamation. The song ends with the suggestion of clicks, again, as footsteps cut off without warning.

More obscure than what Disappears has offered in the past few years, this shift into the grim reveals its decision to turn away from shoegazing or Krautrock. Instead, the band enters a subterranean portal rather than an interstellar voyage. In this new Era, not a dawn but a descent awaits anyone who starts down this black corridor.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/174755-disappears-era/