, April 25th, 2012 08:59
Disappears are a steady band. Since the release of their first album Lux in early 2010, the Illinois foursome have released a new and captivating record at roughly the same time each year. And on Pre-Language, the third instalment in their dark shoegaze/punk narrative, that steadiness extends to the rhythm and patterns of the music, thanks largely to the services of new drummer, Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley. Rather more even than Lux or 2011's Guider, Pre-Language is a record of controlled thunder, of relaxed aggression.
Perhaps due to this Sonic Youth influence (the album was recorded in Sonic Youth's own studios and mixed by the similarly drone-minded John Congleton), the grim repetition - definitely think industrial and Krautrock rather than anything woozy or Wooden Shjips - that made Disappears such a fascinating prospect on their debut and follow-up, is less fevered than in the past. The production is also a little smoother, which rather than detracting from any 'authenticity' through its roughness, actually adds purpose and a rather imposing sense of menace. As far as the evolution of their sound and mood goes, this is quite the coming-of-age moment.
Each of these nine tracks when taken on their own merits are absorbing in their own way, be it the textured and sophisticated take on The Stooges on 'Hibernation Sickness' or the superbly gothic, somewhat Germanic 'All Gone White'. However, as a whole Pre-Language appears a little unfulfilled – a whole lot of build up, with minimal release. The first five tracks are simmering and completely engaging. However, one might expect proceedings to reach a peak of noise and provocation that never really appears. 'Fear of Darkness' comes close, but ends so abruptly as to again leave a sense of an appetite unquenched.
While that absence of climax may be the desired effect, it does leave the album lacking balance with the monotony at times threatening to become aimless and gratuitous. If the groove stays brutally the same, surely the energy levels must change, and that may be something Disappears are yet to fully master. Final track 'Brother Jolienne', arguably where their debt to The Stooges is clearest, is brilliant in its changing pace and relentless electric grind, but is more of a winding down than the violent release the record demands. But, as stated, to leave the listener hanging so tantalisingly may be the point. If so, they certainly succeed.
As ever, the vocal contribution of Brian Case is one of the key ingredients. The Mark E. Smith influence on his impassioned and chant-like 'singing' remains stark, with the fact Case is also a guitarist investing his vocals with a closer harmonic relationship with his band's noise. The lyrics too are fascinating, in contrast with Disappears' clear objective of primitivism, as pointed to in the album's title. Vague and measured references to apocalypse, psychosis and mortality are all enveloped by Case's gripping (although quite distant in the mix) delivery.
As an established and accomplished band who enjoy widespread critical respect as well as the admiration of peers (Michael Rother of Neu! And Harmonia has been a tour-mate), Disappears were never going to fall down with this. To many, this will represent the perfect third album in their career, even if there is plenty of scope for them to get even more interesting next time around.