In the early 2000s, and ahead of the massive success of Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst decided to make some punk music. It was, in this author’s opinion, a direct response to the political climate at the time – which is to say, the failings of the George W. Bush presidential administration.
Oberst needed an appropriate vehicle for his opposition and pessimism. It was vehement – at times, even violent. Something something vitriol. I didn’t mean to start alliterating, sorry.
Bright Eyes was not the proper forum for the type of message Oberst wanted to unleash. Of course, he had the artistic liberty to do so. If he had wanted to make a post-punk record under the Bright Eyes moniker, he’s a grow’d ass man and could have done so. But from a marketing standpoint, the more prudent decision was to create a separate band, with a new name.
Which, if you think about it, is most ironic: Conor Oberst started up a punk band as a marketing decision. Thus, Desparecidos (In Spanish & Portuguese, literal translation: “disappeared ones”) was born.
Read Music / Speak Spanish is an interesting, unexpected side experiment for Oberst. Considering where he was at in terms of his discography, it’s almost like if Justin Vernon were to start a post-hardcore band like Thursday. You would expect it only because he’s a talented guy.
Perhaps the biggest complaint about the album is Oberst’s vocals. They’re raw, but often whiny. For me, this is most evident on tracks like “Man And Wife, The Latter (Damaged Goods)” – almost to the point of skipping over them.
Tracks like “Mall of America” are where the album excels – and not just because of the lack of shrieking – marked by fuzzy, driving bass and shouting. But somehow, it works. I guess I’m giving Oberst the benefit of the doubt, but for what it’s worth, he has a pretty good angry shout.
RM/SS is excellent, but if you’re a Bright Eyes fan, you have to remove yourself from the BE genres. Conor’s dabbled in a lot of everything, from indie (Lifted) to folk (I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning) to… some type of electronic (Digital Ash in a Digital Urn). But this is a few steps removed. It has my recommendation if you can get past the fact that it’s way faster and heavier than anything his more “popular” band ever did.
More recently, the band has reunited for a pair of 7” releases (your parents would know these as “45s” – they’re called vinyl records. Read about them) and a tour. While it didn’t celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Read Music / Speak Spanish, it did spark rumors about a second album.
Said tour also spawned some frustration for me, as I was not able to attend the date closest to me in Orlando. This season, I have been interning for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, and had a home game the day after my birthday, same day as the Desa show. Was bummed – bands like that don’t play Florida hardly ever, so I try to see them best I can. This happened with a band like Past Lives – played a show in Orlando and I couldn’t go, and they haven’t been back since.
Curiously, the best Desaparecidos song isn’t even on their own album or single – it’s called “Popn’ Off At The F” and it’s on the Saddle Creek 50 compilation release from 2003.
From Conor Oberst’s punk side project Desaparecidos, this is “Hole in One” –
Standout tracks: “Survival of the Fittest / It’s a Jungle Out There” and “Greater Omaha” and “$$$$” – the back end of this record is better than the front.
Weakest track: Never was a fan of “Man And Wife, The Former (Financial Planning)”
RIYL: Old school punk, post-punk, post-hardcore. Fugazi, Sex Positions, Cursive.