Music Reviews

Desaparecidos Payola

(Epitaph) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Indie listeners sure love their politics as long as there’s no trace of it in the music they actually listen to. The mere thought of a record that expresses political discord and civil disobedience is usually met with a collective shrug, because surely the entitled youth reserves such argumentative issues for Sunday brunch conversations; having the privilege and the education to actually make a difference, but better to air grievances whilst enjoying a fresh serving of organic omelets with sparkling mimosas. The apolitical nature of “indie” is problematic in itself, too self-serving and concerned with personal success when the actual term is meant to celebrate autonomous subjectivity and humble camaraderie. The music it generally thrusts stems from a “just good enough” mentality, of acknowledging that there’s work to be done, but not really having the impetus to rise up since things seem to be just fine from one's narrow viewpoint.

Which makes the welcome reappearance of Desaparecidos into the current punk constituency a rightly-timed and necessary one. Thirteen years after their raucous and raging debut Read Music/Speak Spanish, the Conor Oberst-led outfit had been silently plotting their return with a string of fiery live shows that would instantly turn heads at music festivals. When delving into current events there’s always the fear that the content will expire once the new House term hits, but the fact that their latest, Payola, still touches on recurring issues that seem to have no resolve proves there’s much to feel dispirited about. The approach Oberst takes follows two converging narratives - the urge to write basic, single-fisted anthems while carefully trying to cover as much ground without overbearing its audience with preachy diatribes. Such an artistic decision can be looked upon as too rudimentary and even precious in appearance, but Desaparecidos firmly believe that the raw fire power of a rock song is still an appropriate and effective way to communicate a message. 

But more than anything, Desaparecidos simply want to have a lot of fun while doing it! "It begins when we chain ourselves to the ATM’s", cries Oberst in the beginning of The Left is Right, which brings up the topic of income inequality with an active voice. It kicks off Payola with burning vehemence and nary an apology, urging listeners to hold one’s ground with fearless fortitude instead of writing to an elective representative and waiting for the outcome. The message doesn’t usually require much effort, which makes the songs even more effective, like in Golden Parachutes, in which Oberst denounces the Wall Street bandits (“Now that you’re too big to fail/You’ll never have to go to jail”) with his usual trembling angst. They hold a commitment to express such matters with a proper punk backbone even when the poppier elements of early Bright Eyes seep into the seams, knocking out quick, uncomplicated songs like a couple of guys in a basement without the need, or even the knowhow, to expose them to the world at large.

That commitment has stuck with Desaparecidos in their thirteen year absence, coming back with tenacious fervor while holding on to a proclamation that can’t be wavered or rewritten. It’s comforting how little they have changed, how those emotionally charged moral polarities play against each other. Like in Backsell, which holds that all-too-familiar chugging guitar in direct rock n’ roll ardor as Oberst screams as if from a loudspeaker against the viciousness of the big labels that want to capitalize on his image: “Capitol! Send the A&R with a firm offer/ Interscope! If the answer is no you can write your own”. So some of their concerns are directly attributed to how they don’t want to play into the system, while others are larger than they can tackle on their own. Search the Searches has one of the more optimistic hooks on the record, even if the subject matter about giving in to privacy is decidedly cynical. It’s a lot of ground for the band to cover, through not one subject passes them by, and they make it perfectly clear that no one should be absolved. 

If this all sounds like a band whose channeling their rebellious college selves, then it actually is, as Oberst sounds completely unfazed of the fame he’s gradually acquired in the past decade. Payola picks off right where their last one left off while completely ignoring that the past decade even happened, which sounds like a harder feat then it might appear. Desaparecidos were never really a nostalgic act - and no one was certainly clamoring for their long-awaited return - more so a fleeting side project in Oberst’s career that seemed to connect with many a disaffected youth. They always understood their audience, and their message will most probably carry the same prevalence into subsequent decades, which is why their presence will always be felt regardless of their absence. Because if one thing is for sure, it’s that they’ll continue to speak out on the gross injustices that seem to happen over and over.