“It’s the same as it ever was,” Disco Doom sing on the opening - and title - track of their brand new album Mt. Surreal – but it’s a lyric that never quite rings true. While there’s definitely a path from these eight new songs to the hearts and minds of those waiting to hear them, it’s never linear, never as straightforward as just putting one foot in front of the other. Disco Doom is, as always, led by the band's core of Anita Rufer and Gabriele De Mario. Releasing music together for some twenty years, such longevity has earned the band a legendary status in Switzerland, as well as a reputation for making incredibly forward-thinking rock music. Since the release of 2014's Numerals, the Zurich-based band have toured the EU/UK with both Built To Spill and The Breeders, had their music featured in the end credits of HBO's Animals, and have also released a critically acclaimed album under their J&L Defer alter-ego.
Some eight years on from their previous effort, new LP Mt. Surreal offers an exhilarating ride, as well as an ambiguous look at society, touching upon themes of nostalgia and detachment in this strange new world we currently encounter. The pair began working on a new album back in 2018, with the final version we hear today worked on from 2019 until late 2020. Initially, Rufer and De Mario recorded with the band in a studio in France, but those sessions didn’t feel quite right and were scrapped, a learning experience which would eventually go on to shape the entire record. “That failure was important for the creative process because as a result, we recorded mostly with just the two of us,” they say. “The writing, arranging and recording was strongly defined by being just us two and not working as a whole band.”
Though Disco Doom are indeed a four-piece – with Mario Kummer taking up drum duties during the recording of the album, and Mathias Vetter joining as their bass player in early 2021 – the recording was characterized by the work Rufer and De Mario concocted together, as a duo, making the very most of what lay around them, exploring what they could do with their guitars.
As a result, Mt Surreal is both expressive and intoxicating. That aforementioned title track is indicative of the shapes and sounds they create across the record: opening with sustained purpose before the whole mood flips, the track folding in on itself and dissolving into the ether, scratchy and untethered. That juxtaposition, an endless swaying between light and dark, form and formlessness, plays out across the record, the songs shifting between direct passages and then burrowing their way into exploratory, experimental rabbit holes. It’s never messy though, even in its most scorched and frayed moments something holds on.
“During the recordings we had the idea that every instrument on the record should also be a part of creating the rhythm, and another theme we followed in these recordings was removing and simplifying. We work with a two-inch 16-Track machine and we have no automation on our mixing desk. These two characteristics strongly influence the way we work. We always decide right after the recording whether to keep a track or to overdub it, and when we mix a song it's always like a performance that never can be repeated identically.”
That fluidity is key to the album’s strength. The sprawling, seven-minute closer “Clic Clac” is a captured moment of inspiration, a first-take live recording from the studio. At the same time, the title track needed a lot of time to find the right arrangement, to find the balance between both the simplicity and complexity of its woozy, sprawling composition. Elsewhere, the chugging “Rogue Wave” highlights the band’s more refined side, a tight sub-four-minute jam full of swirling guitars, warped vocals, and skittish percussion.
True to its name, Mt. Surreal is truly that – a strange and peculiar journey that’ll wrap you up deep inside its intoxicating world, where lyrics leap out at odd moments, where a hook grabs just when the whole thing threatens to combust. “Mt. Surreal is a feeling we can’t describe properly and one that’s constantly changing. It is a longing for what we can not yet describe,” the band say of the new album. “It is the security that doesn’t exist. It is fear and hope, the overload that we feel again and again, the boredom that we want to avoid, and the exaggeration that makes everything a grimace. Mt. Surreal is our problem and Mt. Surreal is our salvation.”
Photo Credit: Raffaella Chiara
Bio: Tom Johnson