Disappears is a Chicago-based band that, in the best moments of its first two albums, combined the gritty, mildly psychedelic aggression of The Stooges with swirling hazes of crunchy rhythm guitar and atmospheric leads shooting off in the distance, often undifferentiated from their environment. Heavily echoed vocal snarls strained to keep up with the hard driving numbers and brooded in the mode of an Ian Curtis or Nick Cave on the occasional slow burners.
Unfortunately, on Pre Language, Disappears’s third full-length release, the fog has begun to clear, revealing a cleaner, heavier sound — one of lumbering percussion and compact guitar riffs that veer closer to “Obstacle 1” than “Sister Ray.” The shift undoubtedly owes something to a recent change in the Disappears lineup: the replacement of departing drummer Graeme Gibson with Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth. One might have had high hopes for Pre Language in light of Disappears’s famous new collaborator, but the results confirm the truism that where bands are concerned, a certain cohesion and je ne sais quoi can trump the pedigrees and talents of individual members.
The taut stomp that characterizes Disappears’s revised aesthetic is occasionally compelling. Propelled by tight, addictive guitar riffs that are the functional substitutes for vocal refrains, “Replicate” and “Pre Language” (the opener and follow-up, respectively) are slightly more rugged, less melodramatic substitutes for familiar works by, well, say, Interpol. But more often, Disappears’s new sound plods — especially by comparison with the frantic, loopy movement through spacy echo chambers that characterized much of the group’s material on Lux and Guider. After the first third or so of Pre Language, the catharsis on offer has run its course. On numbers such as “All Gone White” and “Love Drug” the group can’t seem to decide whether its half-hearted brooding should be aggression or depression, and Pre Language ends up serious about neither.