Pre Language is frustrating not because it’s bad, but because it could be so much better.
Chicago’s Disappears seemed to have emerged in 2010 with a fully developed sound already in place. Although the band was formed in 2007, they waited until 2010 to release their first album, Lux. From this album emerged a blend of Krautrock, garage rock, and post-punk influences that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Vocalist Brian Case in particular has the type of rangeless, guttural voice perfect for post-punk, a mix of Iggy Pop and Ian Curtis. Since that first album, not much has changed -- their third album, Pre Language, presents much of the same energy and influences that they had two years earlier. However, on Pre Language, Disappears has cleaned up their sound and taken away much of the haze that surrounded their first two albums. This clears up the sound of the record, making it more dynamic, but at the same time, it removes some of the mystique that was central to the sound that Disappears had created. The removal of this veil hurts the band, but Pre Language is by no means a weak album.
Pre Language begins powerfully with the duo of "Replicate" and the title track. These two are easily the most urgent and fastest-paced tracks on the record; it’s also not surprising that they are the two tracks that initially stand out. "Replicate"’s graduate chug and build up into a frantic rocker and the driving title track get the album off to a great start.
Yet it is unfortunate that from here on, the record often gets bogged down in slower tracks. This is especially apparent with the middle of the album, which is both heavier and slower than in previous records. The pacing of the album is fantastic when Disappears cuts songs to between two to four minutes -- these tracks know not to overextend their welcome. Yet, one of Pre Language’s biggest faults is when Disappears forgets that brevity can be a strong suit, especially when creating explosive, heavy rock. On the longest tracks, "Joa" and "Love Drug", the album screeches to a halt. The tracks aren’t terrible, both with Krautrock leanings, but it saps the energy of the album away from the driving rockers. Both before and after these forays into exploration, it feels the album is on the verge of falling apart or exploding -- it is this energy that’s so vital to the sound that Disappears has cultivated. Unfortunately, by taking these detours to explore a new sound, Disappears is not staying true to what they do best. It is admirable that they’re trying to branch out, but they don’t find much success in this process.
But, when Disappears sticks with the tried and true of fast-paced post-punk influenced indie rock, they have a winner. "Hibernation Sickness" in particular is a fantastic track, with a gradual build up to a climatic end. This track also shows that inside the heavy muck that Disappears frequently deals with, strands of beauty can and do exist as the guitar arpeggios shine. It is also these driving moments that keep the listener on edge, with the wonder of a child. Disappears sometimes provides this environment, but it is sad that they don’t try this more often.
Pre Language is frustrating not because it’s bad, but because it could be so much better. Disappears can have an intoxicating sound that’s different than most of indie rock today, with heavy, droning guitars with Krautrock and punk influences that harkens back to artists like The Stooges and Can. Their brand of guitar music has provided a boost to the slowly degrading genre of hard rock. But, in the end, Disappears dabbles too much with slower-paced plodding music on Pre Language and their desire for cleaner production and sound has robbed them of the hazy veil that made them interesting. Pre Language is a decent addition, but it isn’t a step forward. It isn’t a step back either, but more of a side step that still showcases Disappears’s promise.