DISAPPEAR HERE by Bad Suns
Genre: Indie Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Disappear Here,” “Swimming in the Moonlight,” “Defeated”
You have to feel bad for the rookie who hits a homerun their first time at bat; they are thrust into the spotlight, massive expectations are thrown onto them, a massive, overpriced contract is signed, merchandise sales go through the roof, and they get hyped up like mad on talk radio and sports shows. Suddenly, people expect them to get the same results by doing the same thing, not realizing they are up against a different pitcher who is not impressed, embarrassing them on the plate and leaving them to DISAPPEAR from everyone’s collective memory as quickly as they had entered, becoming a drug-filled shell of their former self who might appear on a season of CELEBRITY REHAB down the road.
That’s not the full story of Bad Suns (yet), whose home run was their first single “Cardiac Arrest,” an irresistible disco-rock tune with an awesome groove and fun chorus that was a hit on the alternative charts. The band wasn’t able to replicate anywhere close to the same level of success with their album LANGUAGE AND PERSPECTIVE, which is a shame since it had other catchy, groovy hooks, as well as a bright tropical aesthetic on songs like “We Move Like the Ocean” and “Rearview.” Although it had baggage in the forms of the occasional angsty lyric, many of the songs were funky enough to overlook such problems. They were like if you tried to combine “Just Like Heaven”-era Cure with early gothic rock Cure, but not nearly as uneven and mismatched as that may sound. Sadly, DISAPPEAR HERE is everything bad about that particular combination that LANGUAGE AND PERSPECTIVE managed to avoid; it tries to mix shimmering synths, danceable riffs, and melodic falsetto vocals with sickening levels of angst and jarringly harsh chords and keyboards over 13 songs that end up feeling way longer than they actually are.
The title track and lead single kicks things off fairly well, with the band’s usual disco-rock guitars pairing well with a surprisingly distorted and forceful bassline. The chorus is one of the prettiest and catchiest on the album, and the song is one of the few times you can visualize the struggles of love as lead singer Christo Bolman asks ”Would you run after me / Would you run or do we disappear?” and questions if he and his partner are willing to put in the effort to make their relationship last. The bridge contains the somewhat cliche “No stay, no go, go” juxtaposition, but it works because it’s left unclear whether he is talking about himself or his partner, and it’s sung with enough urgency and mania to evoke the image of a man pacing back and forth furiously, unable to make up his mind. However, the song does suffer from a boring, army-march tempo drumbeat that is mixed far too loud and slogs through the entire song.
“Disappear Here” does have problems, but it still manages to be relatable and personal while painting a convincing picture of a relationship and the problems it might go through. So many of the other love affairs depicted on DISAPPEAR HERE read like a romance novel that takes a full page to describe a car, but has no pages on describing the characters or their emotions. Many of the songs on DISAPPEAR are filled with too many similes, metaphors, and oxymorons, such as “She’s a sunrise dressed like dusk” on “Daft Pretty Boys” and “Separate yourself / Integrate yourself” on “Outskirts of Paradise.” These may sound pretty and complex, but don’t match other lyrics in tone and fall apart at the most basic scrutiny, like a hilariously half-hearted apology made by a CEO after his company royally screwed something up. Much like “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, the songwriters forgot that story should be enhanced by comparisons that make the story more personal and detailed, instead of consisting entirely of figurative speech that make things more general and hard to pin down in a way that’s not at all fulfilling, abstract, or intriguing. It prevents the listener from empathizing with the heartbreak Christo wants to express, because they are too busy trying to sort through the flowery lyrics to get a grasp of what he wants us to think and feel. (This isn’t a metaphor but I have to share this awful line: “Sometimes I fantasize about faking my own death / Just to see how it would make you feel.” Wow. Just wow.)
It isn’t just the individual lyrics of DISAPPEAR HERE that frustrate, it’s the repetitive nature of the stories in each song. Almost half of them are about self-destructive relationships and the endless cycle of initial euphoria, increasing dissatisfaction, and finally breaking it off only to jump back on it again. When the songs aren’t about such cycles, they are promises that Christo is getting over said relationships, or an incredibly harsh putdown of a girl on “Daft Pretty Boys,” one of the worst songs on the album because of how unbelievable it is. He brazenly states “I’ve got no time to waste on another pretty face,” even though many of the songs on DISAPPEAR HERE are about his problems with pretty faces. Such themes permeate so many of the songs and become so tired and repetitive that any pity you could feel for the narrator, or any weight to his statements about getting over these unhealthy relationships erodes over time and is replaced by rage at this idiot for his terrible taste in women. At some point it just feels like a backdoor way to brag about the amazing sex Christo is having, but hiding it beneath a thin veil of heartbreak and sadness.
Some of these flaws could be made up for by the music, but DISAPPEAR HERE runs into the bizarre problem of being both understuffed and overstuffed at the same time. Some songs are mixed so quietly, with choruses so similar to the verses, that they feel as weightless and fleeting as wispy clouds, such as on “Heartbreaker.” Only the drums and lead guitar are audible in the chorus and it lacks definition and power as a result. On other songs the band throws in too many synths and effects that aren’t integrated well enough to prevent songs from becoming bloated, a term that should never be used to describe a band whose greatest strength was their sense of loose fun. It’s too clean and bright to be heavy or dark, but it’s simultaneously too abrasive and sludgy to be an earworm, landing instead in that horrible middle ground of nothingness that becomes as easy to tune out as that weird sound in your room you grow accustomed to after hearing so many times.
Besides “Disappear Here,” the only two enjoyable songs on DISAPPEAR HERE are “Defeated” and “Swimming in the Moonlight.” While it’s another song about bad relationships, “Defeated” is the only song where Christo places any blame for his relationships on himself, displaying an introspection he doesn’t wrap in useless similes, instead going straight to the heart of his discontent and fully communicating his rage with the listener with lines like “Lashing out regrettably / I mean no harm, what have I become? / I know I’m wrong / But when you tell me / Things get worse and I wanna change.” The buzzing guitars and ascending drums in the chorus have some stomp and swing to them, and the haunting whistling is the only time additional vocals are worth noticing or aren’t annoying, such as the awful example on “Daft Pretty Boys.” “Swimming In The Moonlight” provides a much needed break from breakups and delivers a beautiful, heartfelt, lovestruck chorus that manages to have impact despite how much evidence there is in every other song that this relationship won’t last. It even has a strangely mechanical, harsh ending, like the song itself knows this love won’t last since Christo needs more bad relationships to try to write about.
Despite these two highlights, DISAPPEAR HERE as a whole is quite a chore to sit through. The album has thirteen songs that average a length of three minutes, but DISAPPEAR HERE feels much longer since so many of the songs just repeat the same tired “woe is me, my girlfriend sucks but I crawl back to her and you should feel bad for me” schtick so many times that time itself seems to slow down to a crawl. The music becomes bogged down and heavy in a way that is unearned and sucks out all the joy, leaving behind nothing that made their first album enjoyable. This doesn’t mean that bands should stay the same through successive albums, but it does mean that they shouldn’t cut out the core of what made them hit a homerun in the first place. It would be like Rush making an album with no drums, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers making songs with no bass guitar. This isn’t just missing the ball. This is missing the ball and losing your grip on the bat so it goes flying into the bench and nails your coach.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend