During a late night, closing time conversation with some friends at a bar a few years ago, we started discussing which time period we would have liked to have spent our early 20s in, based on music alone. My pick at the time (it’s a moving target, ask me again and it could change) was the early 1980s, provided I could live in England. My reasoning was that the Beatles, Dylan, Bowie and Kraftwerk had already happened and their LPs were available anywhere, I’d have been a teenager for punk, and in my show-going prime I’d catch post-punk and the early careers of the Smiths and Cure, and myriad other bands that took it to the mainstream.
The members of Chicago’s Disappears may have just gotten a chance to step into that musical time machine. The band’s clearest influences are an overlapping stew of post-punk, shoegaze and krautrock, and their third album, Pre Language sounds almost stuck in time with how closely it hews to the ethos of that era. There are moments when this is a source of strength, but overall, Pre Language leaves the longing for either a master of the actual era, like Television, or a even a group that took that sound and moved it into some semblance of the present, like Interpol.
Disappears are at their best on songs like the chorus of opener “Replicate” and “Hybernation Sickness,” in which guitarists Brian Case and Jonathan Van Herik let loose a torrent of distorted reverb against the precise rhythms of drummer Steve Shelley (late of Sonic Youth). Too often though the band falls into repetitive loops like those of “Minor Pattern” “All Gone White,” which seem designed to be hypnotic, but only end up redundant. It doesn’t help that Case sings in an affected faux-British accent reminiscent of Louis XIV’s Jason Hill. While not quite as grating as Hill’s voice, Case’s vocals only serve to remind the listener that they’re not listening to Joy Division, and it’d probably be better if they were.
At nine songs and just over a half-hour long, it almost feels like all of Pre Language could have been one long track on an LP by one of the band’s influences (or even Shelley’s former band). A few tracks like “Joa” and “Fear of Darkness” have the distinct cohesion of individual songs. But most of the others run together, even on a careful listen.
If there’s an overarching theme lyrically to the songs on Pre Language, it’s an odd one for such a sonically dissonant record: Love. It’s caught in the bits and pieces of Case’s lyrics that are audible above the mix, like when he sings on “All Gone White”: “I see a light / It’s coming straight for me / Could be the end / Or just the truth finally.” It’s simple, a bit bleak, and to the point if not very artful. Like the album title suggests, it’s an attempt to express something that predates expression. But we do have language now, have for many years, and sometimes a retreat to the past doesn’t yield anything in the present that we don’t already have.
Stream: Disappears – “Replicate”