Reviews

Read Music / Speak Spanish

Author: Julianne Shepherd
02/14/2002 | Portland Mercury | www.portlandmercury.com | Album Review
Lots of people were seen barfing in the streets after hearing the recent announcement that The Faint will be opening for No Doubt on a tour sponsored by MTV's vapid Total Request Live. (The Faint being the sex-a-riffic new wave band on Omaha, NE's smallish label Saddle Creek Records.) That's like the tour equivalent to selling a song for a commercial--a move that's completely self-serving and devoid of conscience. But we barfers must always remember that "independent" doesn't necessarily mean "socially aware" or even "interesting," and that many bands are merely using the underground as a stepping stone to become Typical Rock Stars. The Faint never claimed to be political. Blame Nirvana and Jawbox for setting a bad example.

However, I am glad that the Faint will be famous, because it means more attention will come to their labelmates, Desaparecidos, whose social acuity is both sharp and approachable enough to perk up the mind of your average listener. A five-piece, insurgent rock band with Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst on vocals and guitar, these guys need to be in the public's consciousness. And it's evident they probably will; they're already blessed with a prescribed, relative amount of fame and instant audience (via the Bright Eyes connection). Their music is very accessible, while still retaining interesting musical elements (distorted, buzzy, catchy rock with a punk influence and Oberst's climactic, passionate singing). Their politically honest lyrics are full of a universal discontent with the imposing nature of globalism and social construct. Desaparecidos are a potentially explosive combination.

But, unlike many more overtly political bands, Desaparecidos' tactics of subversion do not involve flag-burning, name-calling, or generalizations (factors that alienate the non-radical masses quicker than fast-track legislation). Instead, their lyrics are written from the point of the view of the average person, or rather, the very personal point of view of Oberst, who just so happens to be broad and honest enough that he's easy to relate to. For instance:

"I want to pledge allegiance to the country where I live. I don't want to be ashamed to be American. But opportunity, no it don't exist. It's the opiate of the populace. We need some harder shit now, the truth is getting around, and each public school is a halfway house."

The basis of Desaparecidos' first record, Read Music/Speak Spanish, is built around the excess of American society and, more specifically, urban sprawl. Each song, encompassed by its sweeping power chords, has a specific message--the bombardment of salespeople, the exploitation of workers and, ultimately, the inherent hypocrisy of being socially conscious in America. (From "Hole in One": "Well I should talk. I'm just the same. You can buy my records down at the corporate chain. I tell myself I shouldn't be ashamed, but I am.")

Regardless of whether or not Desaparecidos set out with specific politics in mind, the fact is, Read Music/Speak Spanish documents real, Midwestern frustration. It's an honest expression of the desire to eschew the mediocrity and homogeneity of the American dream. Anyone who's ever left a small town can understand that. So, while The Faint travels the path of so many other aspiring rock stars before them, Desaparecidos appear to be going by instinct, making music that may not be the most brilliant, but at least it's pure.


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