With all due respect to bands who live and die by the three-minute pop song, Disappears don’t have much use for it. Over numerous releases, the Chicago band has proven a proud champion of experimental noise rock, where the conventions of pop songcraft take a distant second to exploring sonic space. They’ll never be the most accessible band, but there’s something defiantly winning about their enthusiasm for stretching sound like silly putty.
With 2013’s three-song Kone EP and its full-length follow-up, Era, Disappears let their bold artiness hang out. Now, the band goes all out with the musical mischief. Irreal is the work of a band finding four walls and pushing against them to create more room to play. Comprising eight songs, only one of which dips below the four-minute mark, the record warps krautrock, industrial, and art rock into another cathartic rallying cry against the same old, same old.
It’s telling that Disappears opted to record in Chicago’s famed Electrical Audio studios, home to the most persnickety and idiosyncratic of engineers, Steve Albini. Although Albini himself wasn’t involved in the sessions — the record came out just fine in producer John Congleton’s hands — Irreal is touched with a familiar irascible temperament. Like the old Sonic Youth and Bauhaus records the band keeps so close to its collective heart, it’s the kind of record that looks on safe, formulaic pop songs with a certain disdain. Lead track “Interpretation” is driven by Noah Leger’s crisp, jarring drumming, complemented by the droning words of frontman Brian Case. From there, Irreal sticks to that same menacing dynamic. Songs like “I_O”, “Halcyon Days”, and the title track fall further down a dark well of odd time signatures and disjointed guitars.
Whether or not the capital-E Experimentalism of Irreal will grab you depends on whether you can hold on while the band deliberately navigates around staid convention. It’s a sonic exercise that’s daunting, exciting, and at other times frustrating. But it’s never boring, and when so much music sticks to the script, Disappears still thrill by coloring far outside the lines.
Essential Tracks: “Interpretation”, “I_O”, and “Halcyon Days”