Every Disappears song sounds roughly the same: cranked amps dump big Glenn Branca cinder blocks of tone through whirligig pedal rigs over an obstinate kraut clatter while Brian Case whoops or chants unintelligibly. It’s an elegant racket, a savvy distillation of stylish fuzz-rock mid-60s to present, more emollient than angular. There’s no question: Guider, the Chicago group’s second 30-minute LP, is an expertly realized slab of effects-driven rock ‘n’ roll. It’s musical devil’s food cake, deliciously dense and dark, perfect for doing little jerky Ian Curtis dances around your room, or hoisting yourself out of a k-hole, or mowing the lawn on an extremely overcast day. Yet something’s lacking in the marrow of the music — whatever it is that prompts listeners to ally themselves with a band as though the whole industry were some gangland country where borders are drawn with t-shirts and top-ten lists.
It’s not that they’re derivative, although that’s certainly true. Like Stravinsky said, “A good composer does not imitate; he steals,” and Disappears pilfer from the best with little compunction. Why not blenderize Neu! and Lou Reed? The more one collates the band with its antecedents, however, a vital stylistic difference arises: all the groups that seem to be obvious references for Guider possess a striding looseness that Case and his crew can’t seem to conjure. While this hypertension can heighten shorter tracks like the gripping, cresting opener “Superstition,” when the band attempts a longer, more gradually evolving trip like the album-killing 16-minute “Revisting,” their rigidity wrecks their chances of ascending to Sonic Youth plateaus of long-form rock squall.
The album’s chief defect, however, lies behind the smokescreen of reverb and feedback. The longer one takes in the deftly processed roar that Disappears put out, the more one begins to question what would happen were the guitars stripped of their added crunch and resonance. If all their pedals shorted out at once, leaving them with only the purest of tones, would their songs retain their worth or would Case peer out from behind the curtain like a frazzled Frank Morgan? Granted, plenty of bands’ sounds depend more on the effects than the playing itself — how much heady swoop would My Bloody Valentine retain if subjected to this treatment? Being signed to Kranky, a more textural bent is to be expected, but that doesn’t stop Guider from feeling like a lost opportunity. Were the writing supporting the exquisite style more substantial — or better, were there some evident passion behind all the buzzing strums — it would feel much less like an aesthetic exercise. Nonetheless, the straightforward manner in which Disappears present themselves makes it easy to take the album at face value and enjoy its vibe and vigor without worrying about its place in the broader canon.