There is definitely something in the water in Madison, Wisconsin. Personal anecdote: I have a good friend from the area who has introduced me to a few bands in that scene. The Hussy, Dharma Dogs, Coordinated Suicides.
He didn’t mention to me, however, Disq and yet, I seem already familiar with the acerbic power-pop the group present on their album Collector, out March 6th.
There still feels like there are two separate camps in the Midwest; the more caustic, aggressive side of music and then the more upbeat, happy-go-lucky poppier side of the spectrum.
Both sides seem underpinned with a lot of introspection throughout the works from the area – perhaps due to the isolated geography of Madison. It happens to be one of the reasons Saddle Creek, the label responsible for Disq’s release, included the quintet as part of its Document series.
“But isn’t introspective work and isolation the tenets of emo?” I hear someone ask? That is a compelling argument which I can agree with to an extent. I can also assure you that there are those emotive moments throughout Collector.
The band themselves admit that the tracks plundered from the collective demo pile amassed over the years are “organic representations of each moment in time” to create a “tell-all mixtape-story of growing up in 21st century America.”
The dirgy, grunge throngs of “Gentle” and “Konnichiwa Internet” that both settle into Weezer-esque disenchanted power-pop is familiar ground that, if I’m being honest with myself, is almost overdone at this point. Even the track “D19” feels like it was lifted from The Green Album.
But when it’s done well, it’s hard not to have a soft spot for it. If you grew up during the era of “college rock” and enjoyed it, you’d find the freshman-friendly elements of it hard not to enjoy either.
Given also these are tracks perhaps influenced from a litany of wrought songwriters during Disq’s demo process, it makes sense. It also is hard not to be influenced by some of music’s most despondent-yet-cheery maestros.
It’s how often you go to that well, however, that marks a good album from a great album and rather than a full album wearing their musical hearts on their sleeves, there is some divergence at times.
“Fun Song 4” acts as an instrumental intermission, almost a sonic collage of acoustic and semi-acoustic guitars mingled with effects from various effects pedals to create some musical terra-firma.
“I Wanna Die” has more in common with the blues-rock scene that the rest of the album with its decidedly more sombre, moodier moments which fit the tail end of the album rather than earlier on, and “Drum In” that kind of AOR style of radio-friendly of pathos that, yet again, is reminiscent of the ’90s.
So it’s an album for ’90s kids then? Well given that the last decade of guitar-driven music was inspired in part by that era in particular (and still is as of writing) you can earmark those influences Disq have drawn from and enjoy them.
But let’s consider what made us fans of those influences in the first place; the catchy hooks, the calm restraint instead of the full-blown rage of heavier bands of the era. It was more of a clenched jaw of disappointment and sadness than the teenage angst Nirvana et al. served to many – the polite riot, as it were.
Those tropes in music are still as effective in this day and age to a whole new generation of melancholic listeners. It’s hard to be cynical listening to Collector and that they’ve ripped off bands we love.
Who hasn’t borrowed abundantly from that scene and yet made it feel more like a homage than an outright rip off?