If you’ve ever played the classic neo-noir crime thriller Max Payne, you’ll recall the ghostly platforms and graffiti-laced walls of the murky, menacing Roscoe Street Station, a place drenched in dystopian gloom and decorated by cracked mirrors and discarded, bloody needles. There was little in the way of ambience to blanket your hurried footsteps – save for the distant drones of dripping pipes and the occasional non-diegetic stab – and total respite from this near-silent stranglehold was only provided by the beretta-fire of drugged-up delinquents hell-bent on reducing you to ether. If you were looking to soundtrack the cloaked intent of those claustrophobic corridors, though, then the aimless, looping twitches of Irreal, the fifth full-length from Chicago’s Disappears, would provide an apt additional layer of surrealist threat.
Take the foreboding undercurrent of ‘Halcyon Days’ as an example: Noah Leger’s drum kit lurches in the foreground — an inverted sonic paradigm that dominates the record ala Making Bones/Kalaboogie — yet rather than being submerged beneath the slow creep of ephemeral feedback and knife-edged guitar glints, it grows in power like a magnet to shrapnel. The beat doesn’t really change, it just fixates and commands; the calm, hands-to-the-sky ritual at the centre of a hurricane. Even Brian Case’s eerie drones don’t derail the punch. Indeed, the steely persistence Leger’s metronomic groove would likely have provided a similar feverish hypnosis to Valkyr had it been around during that fated New York blizzard.
Yet for all the binary code at the nerve-centre of Disappears’ percussive core, it’s the piston-pump of the supporting mortal collective that intrigues the most. Traces of Mark E. Smith and even John Cooper Clarke lurk in Case’s oft-belligerent yelps, and they provide the world-weary Dickensian filter that tints the desolate temper with emotional meaning. ‘Mist Rites’ captures it best; dead-eyed guitars shiver between forkscrew coils and extended sighs, built on a kindled fire of fervent hi-hats and mini-fills. They’re kept on track by unrelenting layers of drones, whirrs, snares, reverb and indecipherable murmurs that tick like the train in Snowpierecer, hurtling along at a regulated, unstoppable tempo. It’s only a matter of time before you’re back to where you started.
Irreal might buzz with these calculated movements and deliberate steps, but it is also distinctly organic, as if Disappears were Roscoe’s light-travelling night time house-band armed with just an amp, kit and a mic. There’s no reliance on samples or cuts, so how does such a natural set of sounds create a dim, spectral atmosphere? Logically speaking, perhaps it’s the exhausting, punishing repetition of it all. As humans, we’re wired to explore and to discover new ground, to advance to the next level, to anticipate the climax. So when we’re forced to operate within such small repeating circles, we simply short-circuit and submit to the subversion. Disappears seem willing operatives within this meta-reality; I can see Case’s wry smile as he delivers a particularly chilling premise on I_O — “Morality is just a feeling” — and Irreal, by its own etymology, suggests that sound is a more than capable bridge into the uncomfortable unknown between human motifs and the click-clack persistence of machine.
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