Disappears' 2010 debut (Lux) didn’t connect with me at all, largely because the band's more Neu!-influenced elements were often buried beneath busy, heavily distorted guitars: it wasn't bad, but it didn't conspicuously stand out from a lot of other bands either. This time around, Disappears went with a more spacious sound that places the focus squarely on their killer rhythm section and all of the pieces seem to have now fallen properly into place. Guider finds a nice balance between precise motorik repetition, muscle, and deadpan urban cool.
The basis for "the Disappears sound" seems to have narrowed a bit with this album, as all of the songs except the title piece are built from a propulsive, endlessly repeating mid-tempo groove. This tendency was much less evident on Lux, as that album was a bit more varied in both tempo and structure. Variety is not something that suits Disappears very well though, as they tend to be at their best when they cling closest to their formula: guitarists Brian Case and Jonathan van Herik are remarkably adept at assimilating disparate influences in novel ways to keep their very narrow stylistic terrain fresh and compelling. They have embraced minimalism and restraint in a big way here, effectively filling out the songs with heavily delayed strums, hollow-sounding twangs and tremolo bar dives, simple repeating patterns, and controlled bursts of squalling chaos. None of those things are new to the band, but they have definitely improved at making them matter through intelligent use of space.
The album's clear centerpiece is the epic "Revisiting," largely because it is the longest piece. The success of a Disappears song is almost entirely based upon the strength of the groove and how long it is allowed to unfold and "Revisiting" hits the mark on both counts, pulsing hypnotically for nearly 16 minutes. "Not Romantic" and "New Fast" also lock together quite impressively, but they end too soon to achieve similar levels of snowballing power. I actually find the song lengths to be a bit puzzling and arbitrary, as most of the album's six songs last just three minutes or under, which suits the punchier, more "garage rock" pieces like "Guider," but seems frustratingly insufficient for some of the others. Limiting the album to just six songs was a good idea though, as Disappears songs tend to blur together in large doses (there are some great songs buried on Lux that I missed initially).
The primary downside to Disappears, however, is that strong songwriting is not a clear priority: the emphasis is on style and attitude rather than content, which inhibits how far these songs can insinuate themselves into my consciousness. Fortunately, the band undeniably excels at the extremely specific thing that they do: if I were making a movie that had a scene where a totally bad-ass band was ripping it up in a sweaty club, these guys would be obvious candidates. Also, it seems like their limited effort towards songcraft is very deliberate, as it's not like vocalist Brian Case tried to write catchy hooks and great lyrics and failed. Instead, he seems to alternate between a chant-like monotone and urgent post-punk shouting in order to avoid distracting from the groove with anything at all approaching melody. Disappears are not trying to make an emotional connection–they are trying to rumble over listeners like a damn train (albeit a somewhat art-damaged one).
Notably, Guider is the band's final album with drummer Graeme Gibson, a huge setback for a band so single-mindedly devoted to krautrock-influenced grooves. Fortunately, Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley has stepped in to temporarily fill the void, so I have no immediate concerns about these guys losing their impressive momentum anytime soon.