By: Shelby Len
With Disq’s second LP Desperately Imagining Someplace Quiet, it’s never been easier to root for the home team.
DISCLAIMER: You are about to read an album review from an admittedly partial music journalist. I definitely do not know any members of Disq.
I first saw Disq live at a basement show in the Mansion Hill neighborhood in early November 2019 alongside other local acts including Interlay, Trophy Dad and brightviolet. It was a Halloween show, so I went as a Minnesotan (where I grew up), donning a flannel and hiking boots, which is what I wore most days anyway at the time.
Caption: me (right) and my two friends at the aforementioned Disq Halloween show
In contrast to my costume, however, nothing about Disq’s performance at that show was half-assed. What sticks out most from my admittedly blurred memory of that show was their floor-shaking performance of “I Wanna Die”, a sludgy, Black Sabbath inspired jam that had my neck begging for mercy the morning after from all the headbanging. Personally, a sea change happened between arriving and leaving that show; I went in as a bright eyed freshman trying to sniff out where to find free beer, and left feeling like I’d been inducted into a secret society: the Madison music scene.
They say that you have your whole life to write your first album, and about six months to write the second. But in the case of Disq, for whom the traditional album-tour-album circuit was abruptly interrupted by COVID (their debut album Collector was released on March 6, 2020), their sophomore effort had an unprecedented amount of time to marinate. While still staying true to their roots as a loud, power-poppy live band that helped build them the reputation to record Collector with Saddle Creek records, the Disq-iverse blows up in spectacular colors with Desperately Imagining Someplace Quiet.
The most obvious departure Disq takes from their first album is the democratization of the songwriting process. When looking at the songwriting credits for Collector, guitarist/vocalist Isaac DeBroux-Slone is credited with the lion’s share of the tracks. By contrast, D.I.S.Q. evenly parses songwriting credit amongst four of five of the band’s members: DeBroux-Slone, Shannon Connor, Logan Severson and Raina Bock. This might seem like a recipe for an unsavory, incoherent soup of a tracklist. But what results is an album that both easily navigates well-established indie rock conventions and refuses to fall entirely into its ilk.
In addition to the songwriting, the instrumentation is treated like a game of musical chairs. Each member plays a total of no fewer than three instruments throughout the album, save for drummer Stu Manley, whose knobs-to-eleven playing style refuses to get pushed to the background (I should add that Manley is technically credited for playing the electric vaporizer, an “instrument” the band is infamous for taping to the mic stand in live performances).There’s plenty of variety in the instrumentation between songs as well– with guest appearances from the mandolin and fiddle, which add a leavening, Americana breeze, liberal use of mellotron, adding a barely-there vintage feel, and a slew of campy samples added by engineer/producer Matt Schuessler. The constantly shifting playing styles and instrument rosters make for a kaleidoscopic top to bottom listen, while managing to avoid sounding contrived or uncomfortable in any one mode.
Disq has never had an issue in doing their rock and roll homework and having it shine through in their songwriting. A great example of this from their previous album is “D19”, a saccharine, Beatles-esque love ballad to the song’s namesake, the microphone with which the Beatles recorded Abbey Road (be sure to take that factoid to your next music trivia night). The nods and influences in D.I.S.Q. are even more all over the map, with each song seeming to have its fingers in a different crate of records. Hell, opening track “Civilization Four” takes its name from the critically acclaimed 2005 video game. The plodding, beachy synth lines on closing track, “Hitting a Nail with a BB Gun” have a Brian Wilson or Ween-esque air of eccentricity, where a track like “Prize Contest Life” has the angst and wall-of-sound guitar wailing of a Dinosaur Jr. song.
Lyrically speaking, there’s admittedly not much new thematic ground covered that isn’t touched on Collector. The refrain “I don’t wanna be alive/I wanna be AI” that punctuates “Hitting a Nail with a BB Gun” betrays the same disenchantment and apathy as the line “This is my daily routine/ Spend my hours on computer screens”, which opens Collector’s lead single and opening track. Similarly, if you’re looking for the same heartstring tugging you’d find on Collector tracks such as “Loneliness” or “Drum In”, look no further than the grungy “Hardest Part” or the more acoustic, downtempo “Meant to Be”. This isn’t to say it’s a bad thing to tread familiar territory though, especially considering how different the album is sonically from its predecessor. In a way the thematic similarities serve as a center of gravity for the wild changes in style and instrumentation to orbit around.
I currently have a vinyl copy of D.I.S.Q. on its way in the mail to give to my mom as a Christmas present. She came to visit for the homecoming game just last week and loved what she heard when I played her my own copy (sorry mom, but you’re getting the standard black vinyl, not my green and blue version). It’s rewarding to see the band you remember so fondly playing in some basement getting a deal with Saddle Creek, the same company that signed indie heavyweights such as Indigo DeSouza, Big Thief and Hop Along. It says something bigger about the importance of supporting local music, too. Luckily for you, Disq will be ending their tour of the album in Madison at the High Noon Saloon with the support of Ratboys and Godly the Ruler on December 10.