Pre Language is no-nonsense. It’s driven by a beat termed “motorik,” German for “motor skill” and a pun on the English adjective “motoric” (as in “driven by a motor”). Semantics aside, motorik is the exacting 4/4 beat that characterizes krautrock giants such as NEU! and Kraftwerk. Disappears counts on this rigor to fuel a 36-minute jaunt down the Autobahn. Unlike 2010’s Lux and 2011’s Guider, Pre Language features Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) as the man behind the motor.
Even without the validating addition of Shelley, Disappears has a solid resume. Founded in 2007 by Brian Case and Graeme Gibson, the Chicago-based group quickly nabbed guitarist Jonathan Van Herik and bassist Damon Carruesco. Co-founder Brian Case used to lead the progressive rock band 90 Day Men, and played in garage-rock group The Ponys before that. Disappears has opened for Wire and Cluster and toured with Deerhunter and Tortoise. They are qualified veterans of the Chicago scene, but while the ride of Pre Language is wholly perfunctory, it is absolutely joyless.
Ostinato, from the Italian “stubborn,” denotes repetitive musical phrases. This is the basis of a lot of electronica, but manifests itself differently when used in rock. Disappears obstinately utilizes ostinato, darkly and mechanically belaboring the same riff or same note. “Minor Patterns” appears halfway through the album, and reiterates Disappears’ thoughts on repetition. The long, stark intro is roughed up by some reverb, and eventually settling into its mantra. Case drops the words systematically–a syllable up, a syllable down: “Minor patterns / nothing happens / changes, standards / doesn’t matter.” This philosophy sets Disappears apart from their indie-rock contemporaries. There are no arty falsettos, frilly melodies, or intricate chord progressions. The percussion is tight. The sound is dense, though a little scuzzy. Everything fits together efficiently. It is nice to find minimalism so unlike contemporary, polished house music, but the persistence of monotonous tone becomes tedious. One lane on the Autobahn is hypnotic monotony, another lane is bleak monotony. Disappears swerves back and forth between the two.
Both Case’s lyrics and their delivery are frugal but functional, consistent with the mood of Pre Language. Like the title track, the songs “Replicate,” “Hibernation Sickness,” and “Fear of Darkness” build upon the essential theme of primitivity. Replication, hibernation, and darkness are conceivably instinctive concerns of early man. Concurrently, Krautrock is rock-and-roll without the jazz influences, repetition prior to electronica. Disappears uses a retro genre to ponder hyper-retro matters. This is notable in its departure from a tone now in vogue. For years, it’s been faddish to use words like “post-postmodern,” “post-internet,” “post-American” and the like. The notion is of being over it, past it, avant-garde. No one talks about being “pre” anything. (Okay, Christina Aguilera’s Back to Basics sort of goes there, but sophistication was never her aim). Pre Language does not have futuristic aspirations, but there is certainly an elegance in the return to the fundamentals of music and humanity. Three sedate cheers for austerity, please.
Krautrock is a recent enough movement to live accurately in many memories. Is it an archaic enough medium? Or are there conflicting implications? Perhaps Disappears’ alignment of this with the basic is in itself post-internet … technological advancements really have distanced the present from the past, the circuit of retrospect has been shortened. Then again, revisiting roots and going back to basics is usually happening in some arena of the music world. Every revolution incites a counter-revolution. Nevertheless, the truth of the matter is that the internet provides access to all of Kraftwerk’s albums. Do Disappears really need to reinvent the wheel?
The song “All Gone White” is poignantly dismal. The bass is surprisingly varied, and the fuzzy guitar soars dangerously close to a melody. This doesn’t go over well, and the track almost veers off the road. Case voices a potential early-human issue: “I see a lion / It’s coming straight for me / Could it be the end?” This articulation of instinctive thoughts is so bare and essential that the designation of “pre language” isn’t far off. This stream of consciousness continues, “It’s getting bright / Can’t see a thing around / It’s all gone white / Everything is gone.” Paired with the matter-of-fact patterns and mechanical drive, this bloodless demise is disarmingly grim. The contrast of such relentless movement with such weary and solemn lyrics creates a tension that Disappears is careful never to resolve. “History’s just objective memories / in retrospect it could be anything / rewrite the parts / to keep my conscience clean” Dismissive and snarling, it adds depth to the examination of retrospect. Pre Language is wrought with all sorts of harsh progressions.
Pre Language is exactly what it was intended to be, and therefore must be deemed successful. Disappears makes no technical missteps and can boast a skillful execution. Only in terms of aesthetics do concerns arise. Krautrock aficionados and garage-rock buffs may go all out and (spartanly) indulge in this motorik-mania, but more common reactions to this artful drone may include stress and boredom.