Even when they were young teens, it was obvious that Disq knew how to write great pop songs. Starting out as a duo of Isaac deBroux-Slone and Raina Bock in Madison, Wisc., the band self-recorded their first release—an EP titled Disq 1—in deBroux-Slone’s basement and released it in 2016. Its sweet psych and power-pop weren’t fully cooked, but it had palpable charisma and contained seeds of the wide range of sounds they’d explore in the future.
Two years later, they were tapped by storied indie label Saddle Creek to record two songs for their Document series. The seven-inch single “Communication” (which was backed with “Parallel”) contained a zippy, succulent guitar line and deBroux-Slone’s kind-hearted vocals, resulting in a refreshing retro-pop-meets-college rock sound that rose above many other bands operating in a somewhat similar vein. After recruiting three more full-time members—Shannon Connor (guitar, keys), Logan Severson (guitar/backing vocals) and Brendan Manley (drums)—and signing to Saddle Creek for their debut album, Disq were fully equipped to bring their distinct charm and varying influences to life. While earning their stripes as an opening band, playing with acts like Shame, Jay Som and Girlpool, it was hard to determine which direction they would go in since their shows were much punkier than any of their recordings up until that point. Now that their Rob Schnapf-produced (Beck, Elliott Smith) first album Collector has arrived, we have an answer: It’s perhaps more uniform in sound than their debut EP and live shows would suggest, but it shows off their dynamic guitar triple-threat, down-to-earth lyrics and instantaneous pop know-how that made them so enjoyable and relatable in the first place.
Opening track “Daily Routine” is arguably their best song to date, with its wonderfully distorted, occasionally serrated guitars and deBroux-Slone’s vocal fluctuation between sweet and fiery. Other biting pop numbers appear like “I’m Really Trying,” which has post-punk undertones via nimble background guitar work, and “Gentle,” which pumps with vigor. The songs on Collector come from demos written by all five members, and the latter track features lead vocals from Severson, who penned the song and whose voice is more even-tempered than deBroux-Slone’s, but displays a similarly good-natured warmth.
The most surprising inclusion is “Fun Song 4,” a crazy lo-fi, electro instrumental that sticks out like a sore thumb. It seemingly serves no purpose until it transforms into a tuneful, rich power-pop transition. If nothing else, it’s an example of the band’s zany nature that makes them feel like a goofy but loyal best friend. Acoustic selections like “Trash,” “D19” and “Drum In” are unexpected high points, with the understated and tender “Trash” being the most touching. It proves Disq are just as capable of writing mature, timeless compositions as they are light-hearted tunes.
Disq would be a great rock band even if they didn’t have a cogent lyrical identity, but Collector’s personality makes them a multi-faceted group with staying power. Whether it’s technological fatigue (“Daily Routine”), emotional confusion (“Konichiwa Internet”), sulking in the past (“Trash”) or feeling paralyzed (“I Wanna Die”), Disq exude the two forces that make most young millennials tick—romantic longing and personal hell.
On “I Wanna Die,” deBroux-Slone, before launching into a ripping prog-rock riff and an absolutely blazing solo, sings, “I can’t confide in any one of my friends / Because I know it will lead into my end / I can’t believe in anything that I think / And I wonder why I wanna die.” But find him on “D19,” and there’s a peachy search for love, even when his prospects with his dream girl didn’t pan out: “D19 could have been my queen / Someday I’m gonna find one that’s really clean.”
deBroux-Slone taps into the raw, dark moments of young adulthood, particularly the ugly ones spent in isolation. But Collector sticks up for those who are down in the dumps and hands them fun-as-hell rock songs to make them feel cooler and understood. It would’ve been nice to see “Communication” appear on the tracklist—even though it came from a pre-five-piece Disq—given that its humble sweetness still fits in with the rest of the album. But the songs that do make up Collector are packed with interesting guitar tones, an intuition for pop magic and a message that should be shouted from the rooftops.