Disappears - Irreal Album Review

In a universe consisting of four percent matter and ninety-six percent negative space, absence is the dominant substance. With the right frame of mind, a void can be an endless possibility. Disappears’ fifth album pounds that clay into a sonic metaphor. Gloom is one thing, but seeing darkness — an actual lack of light — in sound seems like a kind of mild strain of synesthesia. Not preposterous, but surely left to the individual perspective, at least. Regardless, listening to Irreal, it’s hard to shake the mental image of all the lights being off in the studio when recording was in process.

 

At various moments throughout the record, Disappears’ lack of regard for conventional rock structures can sometimes produce a kind of overactive ambient drone. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is how songs like “Interpretation” work, bending phrases through the prism of repetition. The deeper impulses come into focus over time. The impotent desire of “I want to remember/ Make me” slowly becomes the frightening potential that “Anything can happen”. If we don’t collectively crave chaos and dystopia, why have we, at least in our popular and political culture, become so increasingly fixated on it?

With each turn through its drained mantra of “Another thought/ Another memory”, the accumulation of existence begins to sound like an unbearable weight on album single “Another Thought”. The official video for the song features one shot after another of variously turbulent bodies of water, visually droning in appropriate solidarity. Rivers, lakes, or oceans might typically be stand-ins for tranquility, but each shifting frame of “Another Thought” is like a slab of swirling blue marble sprung to malevolent life.

 

Disappears — “Another Thought” Music Video

 

Irreal was assembled at Electrical Audio, but producer John Congleton was the foreman, not the establishment’s proprietor, Steve Albini. It is easy, though, to imagine the final results coming out relatively similar in either pair of hands. Aside from an impressive and diverse CV of production credits, the choice of Congleton may have at least something to do with the fact that he previously worked with singer/guitarist Brian Case when he was in 90 Day Men. His experience with certain Texas bands with predilections for cavernous ambience (Explosions in the Sky, The Black Angels, This Will Destroy You) might also explain the enormity of Damon Carruesco’s drums on Irreal, which sound like they were recorded in the middle of an industrial shed, with the other instruments spread out away from the center and further toward the periphery.

Nowhere does reverb make itself felt as the fifth member of the band more than on the album’s title track, a snarling mammoth of post-everything disillusion. “I’m on some new trip/ Bleeding just to feel”, Case informs, cold to the troubling extent of his own ennui. The sinister forces portended to in Irreal are descendants of whatever distancing impulses downgrades emotions to ‘the feels’, and compels people to find dissatisfaction with everything but do nothing about it. Complaint used to be the first step, now it is the last. There is never any fight in Case’s voice because resistance became futile a long time ago.

“Am I alone now?” Case implores repeatedly in the final minutes of “Navigating the Void.” Leaning into an echoing vacuum of scraping guitars, tremolo and roiling percussion, he seems to run through a list of everyone he had to shed, voluntarily or not, to come to this precipice. He addresses them namelessly but individually: “I know your history/ I am your ex-lover”, “We used to pretend that/ We were brothers”. The thrust of Irreal has led to a kind of death, internal or external, real or imagined. To the point, though, that perspective is key, this outcome might not be so undesirable; it could even be liberation, the album ending on a high note.

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