In the months following 9/11, then-Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst teamed with four musicians from his native Omaha, Nebraska, under the moniker Desaparecidos to release an agitated political-punk album that tackled domestic issues tainting both his hometown and America at-large. That record, the raucous, emotive Read Music/Speak Spanish, revealed a raw, fraught portrait of the suburbs of Oberst’s youth cracking under the weight of endless parking lots and greed run amok. Its nine white-hot takes on the financial and housing industries proved prescient when their collective bubbles burst later in the decade, igniting the worst financial crisis in America since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

True to Desaparecidos’ Spanish and Portuguese translation – “disappeared ones” – the band went M.I.A. following Read Music/Speak Spanish, as Oberst turned his full attention back to Bright Eyes. In recent years, after Oberst retired his Bright Eyes project, new songs started trickling out of the Desaparecidos camp on topics such as an Arizona sheriff infamous for his racist profiling practices (“MariKKKopa”), the Occupy movement (“The Left is Right”) and the anonymous hacker front (“Anonymous”). Now, 13 years after its initial salvo, Desaparecidos has returned with its sophomore record, Payola, a collection of 14 songs – eight new, six previously released – striving to unleash the same rage against the almighty machine as its predecessor.

Whereas Oberst’s first go-round with Desaparecidos found him defining internal outrages as America directed its attention to forever wars in the Middle East, this new record comes at a time when it’s tempting to say not much has changed. America remains at war, the stock market is scaling heights that raise new bubble concerns and race relations in the wake of the Charleston massacre remain an open wound. Perfect conditions for a new Desaparecidos album, right? Yes and no. At times, Oberst hits an anthemic vein on tracks like “Radicalized,” “Backsell,” or the aforementioned “Anonymous,” where it’s easy to envision the crowd fist-pumping like it would at, say, an Against Me! or a Titus Andronicus show. Even when the blood rush hits, the whole production can be a tad disappointing, or even fatiguing, if you allow yourself to consider maybe Oberst is preaching about the same shit just on a different day. Maybe, just maybe, he is preaching to the choir, and what happens if you’ve grown exhausted sitting in the choir?

Read Music/Speak Spanish presented itself as a succinct, explosive package that did not run the risk of overstaying its welcome. At 14 tracks, Payola feels, at points, fat like a corporate lobbyist’s pockets, even though most of the songs here clock in at three minutes or less. The drums and guitars charge toward their conclusions with the same finishing kick as Oberst’s truth blasts, and maybe if I were still 17, as I was when the first Desaparecidos record dropped, this would be my record of the summer. Thing is, I am not an idealistic 17-year-old listening to Desaparecidos in my best friend’s house anymore. I am a (somewhat) jaded 30-year-old wondering how the hell a new batch of Desaparecidos songs or Oberst yelling “You can’t stop us / We are anonymous” is going to change much, if anything. And while I admire his chutzpah in barking lines like, “If there’s anything great left in this sorry state/ It was built on the backs of the poor” on “Anonymous,” another part of me just wants to escape, to not be a poor person in a sorry state. The easiest way to temporarily escape this line of thinking, whether fair to Oberst’s work or not, is to turn off the latest Desaparecidos record.

  • Fleet Foxes: Shore

    After the dense and solemn Crack-Up, Robin Pecknold returns the Fleet Foxes to their roots…
  • Revisit: Donna Summer: The Wanderer

    A beginning, middle and end, this may not be Summer’s strongest album, but it contains all…
  • Hen Ogledd: Free Humans

    This is a lot of trebly, upbeat music to stomach in one sitting, but Hen Ogledd has evolve…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The Whites: by Richard Price

You don’t need Adderall to feel the pulse of Price’s pages or his empathy for his characte…