From acid-fried garage to spiralling kraut, Disappears have been a solid entity up to now, interpreting styles which are often bloodlessly drawn upon by others as surface reference points. Although their output up to now has shown character and distinction, Irreal feels like a substantive culmination, where the sound of the band largely supersedes any possible identification of precedents. Although post-punk feels like the closest simplification - as this is many different things at once – it’s imposing and difficult to tie down.
This might come from the momentum dictating most of the eight tracks. Whereas in the past the accessible constancy of a motorik beat was often assumed, here the tempo resembles that of a stagger and a lurch. Spasmodic but sharply rendered, guitars and drums are strung into a taut but frequently divergent system. Opener ‘Interpretation’ stalks forth with hollow, barrelling thuds and dense nether-dub, with light eventually streaming in during a sudden transition in its final phases. A contradictory incorporation like this amidst such a strong accumulation of mood and stature recalls the intelligent builds and impulsive upheavals of This Heat, not to mention their heavy, chaotic interplay, qualities which continue on ‘I_O’. Yet here the fog lifts, with a more expansive sense of space affording Brian Case more of a presence.
As with the sounds which orbit Case, the lyrical content is economical, minimalist, without unnecessary decoration. But their effectiveness becomes clear with such a line as ‘morality is just a feeling’, one of many provocative fragments amongst the raucous swill of everything else. Accommodating more space amongst the scorch, warp and scuzz, which the band often add as embellishment, is an improvement which seems consistent throughout, indicating that they’ve been edified, not just by an imitative replication of dubs recesses, but by the extensive abundancy provided by its production approach.
The title track again exhibits the merits of less is more, a drone and a diminutive, strained metallic pluck - accented like rigid power lines about to snap - repeats itself even in spite of the high-speed, formless immolation which constitutes its conclusion. Before this explosive termination is reached, Case almost encapsulates the record with two words; ‘dream leaking’, something which comes close to communicating the fundamental texture of Irreal, with everything seen through the drenched lens of the surreal, a perspective rooted in restlessness and unease. Though that’s not to say that the record deals in unmoored, escapist flight. This is the kind of skulking, hard-edged psychedelia that would sooner prompt visions of a night-walk through some doom-laden modernist underpass more than any idyllic imagery that might be commonly associated.
The fact that the band manoeuvre adeptly out of the title track’s final apocalyptic slipstream into the wrecked noir lurk of ‘OUD’ and ‘Halcyon Days’ consolidates Irreal’s greatness, as well as its status as a significant high point in the band’s career to date. The origin of their enrichment could be attributed to a number of factors – the effect Steve Shelley’s (of Sonic Youth fame) introduction to their ranks had, the side project Case has indulged (Acteurs), the extent of their output and the opportunity to find a sound relatively free from the noise of hype and expectation – and such reasons probably should have equal prominence, along with a host of others I’m sure. Whatever the root contributions, there’s a sense that the band’s sound has fully emerged, formed of many styles and influences, but unequivocally their own construction.
The display of individuality only becomes more apparent by the time ‘Mist Rites’ unravels its razor-sharp, nightmarish dissonance. Following in its wake comes the zenith of it all in the form of ‘Navigating the Void’, a finale which reveals something suitably pensive and sublime, restrained but colossal, a black-hole farewell.
Over a concise running time Irreal’s world is firmly established. Intense drifts, crooked creeps and eruptive passages populate the atypical structures which feature, but nothing feels inflated, with overwhelming effects and minute repetitions equally balanced and contrasted. It’s clear it doesn’t offer any comforting refuge. Rigorously confrontational and unpredictably wayward, it’s a brutal bad dream as puzzling and hallucinatory as it is powerful and vivid. It’s one that many will rightfully want to recur.