If I had to compile a top five of the most frustrating bands (and I will do, one day) then Chicago’s Disappears would be fairly high in that list. Their career, for this writer at least, is a series of false starts, failed experiments and missed opportunities. Led by Brian Case (ex of 90 Day Men and the Ponys) they promised much with debut album Lux, a nice mix of Kraut/Velvet Underground chug, gloomy psych and a touch of melody without losing any intensity, then blew it with the dull repetition of Guider before muddying the waters further with third full-length Pre Language – a record that trudged along disappointingly despite Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley joining the band on drums, and seemed more in thrall to things past than was particularly healthy. Still, I’m all for giving a band a chance especially when you know there’s something there worth pursuing, and so I approached album number four Era with a little bit of hope and a fair amount of trepidation.
Shelley has now amicably departed and been replaced by Noah Leger, yet there’s not that much of a change between Pre Language and Era. The repetition remains the core of the Disappears sound, and you have to wonder if the band thinks they’ve just got to pummel any critics into submission with rhythm and we’ll all get on board with where they’re heading. There is a slight alteration in sound inasmuch as things appear gloomier than usual: songs seems stuck in a gothy, post-punk 80s netherworld of doom and depression, and Case has pretty much given up on any attempt to “sing” and instead does his best Mark E Smith or John Lydon, often covering his vocals with dubby effects while the rest of the band gets to work on the repetition thing.
When it actually works well, Disappears are a force to be reckoned with; opener ‘Girl’ is a noisy Iggy and the Stooges-style sludge assault complete with Case yelping nonsense over and under the mess of guitar, bass and drums, while title track ‘Era’ is a blend of the hypnotic and melodic powered by Leger’s brutal drumming, and ‘Weird House’ is a metallic appropriation of PiL’s post-punk moves. When it doesn’t, the results are desperately disappointing: ‘Power’ encapsulates all the worst parts of 90s Alt Rock, the nine minutes of ‘Ultra’ are a complete mess and the horrible dance rock of ‘Elite Typical’ ruins what is a great song title. Creepy and gothic final track ‘New House’ nearly redeems things with its haunting intensity, but it’s a bit too little, too late.
So, the frustration remains with Disappears. I get the feelings that Case doesn’t really know what he wants his band to be: he’s done the melodic thing, he’s tried to take psych and Krautrock and do something new with it, and now he’s pulled from the 80s without obvious success. Era joins the other three albums as a missed opportunity, and only time will tell how many more chances the band will get before critics – and listeners – give up on them.