Reviews

Read Music / Speak Spanish

Author: Jerry McPheerson
2/11/2002 | Viceland.com | www.viceland.com | Feature
Popular music as social criticism has a long history of sucking shit. Whether it's the empty sloganeering of a group like Rage Against the Machine or the always pukey drama of "socially conscious hip hop," entertainers just don't know how to smash the state while sounding like they actually mean it.

But then there's Desaparecidos. Hailing from the heart of Middle America (Omaha, Nebraska), this five-piece of kids in their early 20s are making the kind of urgent and huge power pop/punk rock that could really, you know, make a difference.

Their debut record, Read Music/Speak Spanish, would have been a huge godsend to me at the age of fifteen, when I was ripe for catchily worded and heavily played music about how fucked up American culture is. I may be a thoroughly radical-politics-ed out twenty-six-year-old, but I'm still all giddy when I hear Desaparecidos rip through a song like "The Happiest Place on Earth," in which singer Conor Oberst says, "I wanna pledge allegiance to the country where I live. I don't wanna be ashamed to be American." In fact, this album should be handed out for free every September to American middle-schoolers. In ten years, a free Read Music/Speak Spanish public-schools program could have us all living in a liberal, free-love, no-more-corporations utopia!

"It's weird to be critiquing culture, because as an American, you're by default involved in the bullshit of it all," says Conor, the twenty-one-year-old leader of Desaparecidos. Conor, even at his tender age, is already a veteran of the independent music world. He's well-known as the boy behind Bright Eyes, a warm and fussy folk -prodigy project. But while Bright Eyes' music is a whole different genre and its lyrics focus on affairs of the heart, Desaparecidos is a group with a more populist agenda. Conor's fixations on this album, the things that he sounds really pissed off about, are urban sprawl, corporate juggernauts, and the slow psychic death of the mandatory 9 to 5 job.

The members of Desaparecidos have known each other forever. Bassist Ian is not only Conor's cousin, but also his "best friend in the world." Guitarist and primary riff-writer Denver has known Conor since the fourth grade. "Conor and I met at a children's theater acting guild," laughs Denver.

The intimacy of the band members probably explains in large part the tightness and force that they put into their four-minute manifestos. Heavily influenced by bands with titanic and hooky sounds (Weezer, The Pixies, Fugazi), Desaparecidos is almost like roots music for Americans in their early 20s. "For me, it's a return to the kind of music I was into several years ago," says Conor.

If Read Music/Speak Spanish doesn't make you dust off your copy of No Logo, it's at least going to seduce you musically whether you're sipping on a Starbucks latte or brewing your own from organically-grown beans.


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