Desaparecidos Read Music/Speak Spanish

[Saddle Creek; 2002]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: post-punk, angst rock
Others: Bright Eyes. Cursive, The Good Life

I remember spending my formative adolescent years growing up in a Midwestern land steeped in ennui and corn, unable to shake the feeling I was going to die of boredom if the town I lived in didn't grow or progress. Imagine my shock when, upon a recent visit back to my old hometown, my wish had come true; but instead of feeling that I was seeing a childhood dream realized, it was more depressing than anything else. I imagine it happened slowly and so quietly that no one who lived there really noticed. I secretly pondered what had become of my old home and most likely hundreds of smaller cities just like them.

And apparently, so has Conor Oberst.

Better known to most of us under his Bright Eyes alias, Conor Oberst, after playing a tribute concert in 2000, teamed up with two members of his touring band and a friend from The Good Life under the Desaparecidos banner: eventually releasing their only known album Read Music/Speak Spanish in early 2002. The album itself was recorded in only a week, which assists in coloring the urgency and raw angst covered in the subject matter.

Oberst and company have effectively crafted a searing punk fueled half-hour funeral march for both small town life and the days when you were more likely to hear the words mom and pop than multinational corporation. At the record's core, there is a sense of great disillusionment with watching the cold, calculated displacement of human interaction and community while the world trys to fill the void with money and chain stores.

Musically, if you are a fan of his work in Bright Eyes, this record is a no-brainer. However, people not normally fans of Oberst's wounded, warbled delivery may find that his greater amount of range and authority comes off less as whining and more as a genuine primal scream, lamenting the corporate juggernaut threatening to mow down the world and replace it with Starbucks and parking lots. On "Greater Omaha," which lambastes the greedy encroachment on his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska (a requisitely reasonable model for many other towns just like it across the country), he cries about big business descending like vultures in three piece suits, before belting out the cathartic chorus, "Just one more mouthful and we will be happy now!" In the song "The Happiest Place On Earth" he rides a crest of buzzsaw guitar and staccato drums while dropping smart bombs on the jingoistic attitudes that have risen to the fore in recent years with lines such as, "I got a letter from the Army so I think that I'll enlist/I'm not brave or proud of nothing/I just want to kill something/Too bad nowadays you just point and click/swing low satellite, hot white chariot." It’s a refreshing antithesis to much of the holier than thou, with us-or-against-us rhetoric that is celebrated so often in popular music today.

It has been remarked there is no stopping progress. This may be true, but Desaparecidos are not suggesting progress can be stopped, they rather all Americans instead reconsider what the word means for the new millennium. Read Music/Speak Spanish posits that progress is not necessarily a shining beacon of new and better times, but rather a dirty word having less to do with moving forward and more to do with building ourselves into an inescapable gridlock. While there isn't much the record can do about that, Oberst and friends can at least point you toward a clear stretch of road to transcend the madness for a solid and entertaining half hour.

1. Man And Wife, The Former (Financial Planning)
2. Manana
3. Greater Omaha
4. Man And Wife, The Latter (Damaged Goods)
5. Mall Of America
6. The Happiest Place On Earth
7. Survival Of the Fittest/It's A Jungle Out There
8. $$$$
9. Hole in One