For a few years, it felt like we had the perfect band to summarize Chicago. Wilco made music about gazing drunk and heartbroken at skyscrapers you could never afford to live in, about stealthing down streets that always felt too wide. But maybe the expiration date on Wilco’s glassy pathos as an urban emblem has come and gone. Chicago keeps boiling with problems that don’t fit inside easy midwestern Americana. Like fellow locals Cave, Disappears sound like they come from a city that will tow your car to the wrong parking zone and then give you a ticket because fuck you.
The quartet’s fourth album, Era, is an appropriately dystopian excursion. While 2012’s breakout Pre Language played with the crunch of shorter-form noise, the Kone EP drifted back to freer shapes, the 15-minute title track wandering inside menacing weather, sounds plopping down seemingly by happenstance. Era hits the middle point between Kone and Pre Language, embracing both structure and space. The album’s centerpiece and strongest track, “Ultra”, writhes down a sickly post-punk channel for nine oppressive minutes, a Joy Division nightmare that will not let up. The vocals drawl like a warning chalked on crumbling brick. You can barely make out the letters, but you know they don’t spell a good omen.
The album’s title track opts for a downward-slung chorus instead of the band’s usual punctuating yelps. This is the closest Disappears gets to a hook, and it goes, “Is rapture your only fear/ Or do you think about it at all?” “Weird House” interjects with vocal playfulness that mimics David Byrne, even as the guitars smolder at the same temperature as the rest of the record. At the finish, Era mixes the guitar from the Twin Peaks theme with a mechanical heartbeat, before smearing both into a squeamish minor key. “Do you remember?” is the question repeated over and again, until the words hardly have meaning. The whole thing’s a smoky noir cast in a broken-down urban void. “You feel the same but no one knows you now/ A new house in a new town.”
Living in any city brings its share of alienation. Disappears render the loneliness in Chicago’s orange smog and shattered buildings. On their website, the band frames the album announcement with the words, “ERA IS A BEGINNING.” I’m almost scared to think of exactly what it begins.
Essential Tracks: “Ultra”, “New House”