Published Jun 23, 2015Conor Oberst never needed a separate vehicle for his politics — leftist strains run throughout his deep discography. Yet Desaparecidos, Oberst's recently resurrected early 2000s punk project, still occupy a unique and much beloved place in his career. The band's 2002 debut, Read English/Speak Spanish found the Omaha, NE singer-guitarist unleashing a visceral screed against suburban sprawl in Middle America.
The ensuing 13 years since their initial split have seen Oberst mellow out significantly, so the idea of a sequel feels a bit anachronistic. Yet Payola, the band's sophomore effort, revisits the spirit of the original without forcing the vitriol. That there's so much in America to spit fury at these days — racist immigration policies, economic inequality, American exceptionalism — probably doesn't hurt, either.
Unlike many of Oberst's projects, Desaparecidos is a band in the truest sense, as its five members write together. Guitarist Denver Dalley in particular shines, creating jilting riffs whose stop-start rhythms rattle the skull. Not everything works — "Anonymous," one of a half-dozen songs on the record that have already appeared on separate seven-inches over the past three years, in particular, feels a bit on the nose. And Payola lacks Read English/Speak Spanish's raw nerve. But at no point are Oberst's convictions in doubt.
That last point is particularly important when comparing Desaparecidos to another politically charged punk band releasing new music after a long hiatus. The new album from label mates Refused arrives a week after Payola, and finds a band who once predicted punk's future flailing, desperate to prove their own relevance. By simply moving with the times, Desaparecidos have managed to skirt that issue entirely, making Payola a surprisingly vital return we never knew we needed. (Epitaph)