By: Benjamin Bland
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In the past I’ve hailed Disappears as a band having a certain gift with time, a band capable of manipulating and controlling the listener’s perception of the way the world passes them by. Irreal is, however, the first record of theirs I have heard that lacks this particular trait. A weighty listen that churns through its forty-five minute running time with quasi-industrial dedication to constructed rhythmic space, Irreal is far more linear and, dare one say it, terse in its approach than Disappears have been in the past.
There’s always been a hint of Swans to this band of course, not least in vocalist Brian Case’s style of delivery, but never have the band assumed Michael Gira’s mission of tense, almost anti-music atmospherics as readily as they do here. Irreal’s instrumentation is a dark sea populated only by sparse flashes of melody amongst wave upon wave of chopped and constricted guitar. The rhythm section does its post-punk thing. Everything is as gloomy as the album’s predominantly black cover suggests.
Whilst never as crushing as Gira and company – there are moments at which Bauhaus, Joy Division or maybe even Liars would be far more accurate comparisons – Irreal takes its determination to be bleak and unrelenting to almost comic levels. “Anything can happen”, Case proclaims on opener ‘Interpretation’, but it’s all too clear where this record is going from its opening moments. It’s art rock that, when focused upon intently by the listener, finds itself momentarily overwhelmed by its own inherent preposterousness.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as such, but it doesn’t exactly set the record up in the manner Disappears no doubt intended. Thankfully, the rest of Irreal is still full of great moments,. ‘I _ O’ and ‘Another Thought’, the tracks that follow up the slightly overwrought opener, are two of the finest moments in the band’s catalogue to date, adeptly channelling the detached dystopian paranoia that claws away at this record more forcefully than at any other Disappears album to date. Case’s “future is death” exclamation on the title track is a moment of brilliantly cynical brutality, whilst closer ‘Navigating the Void’ succeeds in the goal that has been defined for it ever since the album’s opening moments. It’s a haunting, elegiac end to an album subsumed by the sort of resigned passivity that has dominated this kind of music since the mid-eighties.
The only problem, then, is that Irreal’s all a tad too well drawn. It’s Disappears minus a little of that magical ingredient that made Pre Language and Era as captivatingly enjoyable as they were determinedly serious. So, whilst there are plenty of moments to cherish here, nothing carries quite the same powerful allure that Disappears have used so potently to their advantage to date. Nevertheless, this is such a well-crafted record that it’s hard not to recommend it. If you can get over the rather over-signposted mood of Irreal then you’ll find it still has plenty of curious charms.