Reviews

Read Music / Speak Spanish

Author: Ryan Allen
02/28/2002 | Lost at Sea | www.lostatsea.net | Album Review
I have a slight confession to make: I read Livejournals. Honestly, I could not tell you exactly why I have such a fascination with reading about how much certain young girls just love Dashboard Confessional, or how the cute boy in their 5th hour won't even look at them. I guess my only excuse is that I am an American, and thus, voyeuristic. I mean, admit it, we all are.
Anyhow, the Livejournals I read usually belong to somebody I know, and through that person I know, there comes an avalanche of people whom I may slightly know, or may not even know at all. During one of these sessions of voyeurism, I came across a journal which had this to say about Conor Oberst, the mastermind behind folk luminaries Bright Eyes, as well as his recent "rock" project, Desaparecidos: "He's a whining pussy. Really... he whines a lot. But... he's good."
After one listen to Read Music/Speak Spanish, there is no mistaking that this comment is pretty damn accurate. It is no secret that Oberst is a highly emotional individual, as documented through his countless confessionals contained on the last three Bright Eyes records. However, where Oberst has focused much of his fever on relationships and the depression that results from heartbreak, Desaparecidos set their sights on the expansion of the band's hometown of Omaha and its apparent sickening expansion, and how it relates to America's obsession with materialism.
As Desaparecidos takes aim at the worlds of high fashion, fast food, mall-rats, and consumerism as a whole, Read Music/Speak Spanish comes off as a musical version of Fight Club. The battle against "stuff' is raged on all out rockers like "Greater Omaha," a song that directly attacks their hometown, attributing a hungry monster quality to the cities elite, claiming "They'll be feeding us/ they'll be feeding on us." On "The Happiest Place on Earth," Oberst questions the American consumer's way of life, explaining that there is too much concentration on industry and expansion and less on human life, with lines like "Each public school is a halfway house."
A good concept album, however, must echo their subject matter musically, and for this project, Oberst has assembled a group unafraid to play with bloody fingers and amps cranked up to 11. Joined by various members of the Good Life and other Omaha rock outfits, the band treads quite close to the same emo-ish territory occupied by Cursive (of whom Oberst is an unabashed fan), traces of Weezer (the guitars of the second track, "Manana" almost a blueprint ripoff of The Blue Album) and Dinosaur Jr. can be found amongst Oberst's familiar throaty wail. Other points of reference could be found in Oberst's earlier projects, Commander Venus and Park Ave., as he and the band spit and scrape through a youthful brand of pop and punk rock, silly breakdowns and all.
It can be assumed that Desaparecidos was consciously designed to be the anti-thesis of Bright Eyes, both musically and lyrically. It could be possible that Oberst saw Bright Eyes filtering into the wishy-washy world of Livejournals and unrequited crushes, and wanted to show off his rock credentials with Desaparecidos. Although he may still be a whiny pussy, Oberst and the band muscle their way 9 songs that address some pretty important issues; things that he has yet to whine about. Because of this, Read Music/Speak Spanish, in all it's emo-clicheness and predictability, still manages to be fresh and fun, rollicking and inspired, and poignant as hell.


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