Reviews

Read Music / Speak Spanish

Author: Scott Finnell
2/11/2002 | Kindamuzik.net | www.indamuzik.net | Album Review
Loosely translated, Desaparecidos means "the disappeared ones." The term refers to the thousands of leftists and activists who were swallowed up by various South American governments in the last few decades, innocent people who were one day taken from their families and never heard from again. This Omaha- based band has co-opted the term and uses it to refer to our American way of erasing the individual through the cultural black hole of suburbia. 'Read Music Speak Spanish' is a sort of indie-rock 'OK Computer', an album that offers up a cohesive bit of social commentary on the "work-marriage-kids-death" life cycle of suburbanites everywhere. While it speaks to universal themes, the album is focused on the local. The unique packaging comes off as an Omaha City Planning Department report, putting song lyrics next to zoning information in one of the most ingenious packaging arrangements I have ever seen. The specificity adds depth and texture to the message: This is not just the West's problem, it is Omaha's, and that means that the family farms and country living that defined this area's identity for a hundred and fifty years are losing out to the ubiquitous Big Box retailer and tract housing.

Desaparecidos are powered by Conor Oberst, one of the most talented lyricists around and the singer/songwriter behind the pop-folk outfit Bright Eyes. Oberst gets out of the edgy rock-folk-pop hybrid music of Bright Eyes, opting for a more mainstream indie rock sound with Desaparecidos. The result is strikingly similar to vintage Frank Black or The Pixies. Oberst's razor-sharp lyricism and chaotic vocal stylings remain. This album brims with winning lines, as in the song 'Man And Wife, The Latter (Damaged Goods)', when a jaded husband says to his wife "I'm a bill you pay. I'm a contract you can't break." Or try the opening to 'The Happiest Place On Earth', which pretty much sums up a whole disaffected generation's idea about America: "I want to pledge allegiance to the country where I live. I don't want to be ashamed to be American." But buyer beware: Oberst fairly screams for much of this album, sacrificing on-key singing for raw emotive force.


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