Who It Is: Desparecidos – Payola; Epitaph Records (2015)
What It Sounds Like: Heatmiser, Good Ol’ Fashioned Rock N Roll
Typically when a band hasn’t released anything in over a decade, my default response is to be incredibly weary – especially when you’ve got a musician like Conor Oberst involved. His releases with past projects have been so monumental, one can only wonder how anything could compare.
I was hesitant to click play a few months ago when Desparecidos teased their new album with the song “City On The Hill,” but was immediately glad I did. Both the song and it’s music video didn’t do anything I wouldn’t expect them to do, but automatically, that was what I liked about them. In fact, that’s what’s amazing about Payola as a whole. Desparecidos isn’t a band that’s trying to be anything that they’re not. There’s no pretense of trying to stay relevant or trying to fit in with the new school sound. It’s quite the opposite, really: they’re staying true to their roots.
This is a group of people who developed as musicians when the big-band, punk-rock sound was still everywhere and that really comes through in their sophomore album’s delivery. Over a decade of sitting on the back-burner hasn’t burned the food, it’s more like they bottled it and it aged it like a fine wine. It’s incredibly refreshing to hear something like Payola in 2015. It’s not that more bands need to return to this ‘two guitars blasting power chords through distortion pedals, a bass, a drum kit and a white dude yelling’ set up, it’s just that this album does an incredible job of reminding us of why it was such a popular sound in music 10 years ago.
What sets this album aside from other releases this year is that it’s incredibly fucking politically charged and ANGRY. The whole album is a biting criticism of the state of American society today. The hot-button topics range from the immigration laws, to slacktivism, to police brutality, to firearm regulation. While, at first, I had to ask myself what right a privileged white dude like Conor Oberst has to speak on some of these things… The second thing I had to ask myself was how many people in Conor’s position decided to release an entire album dedicated to the problems America is facing. That thought process comes with some serious side-eye at all artists in similar positions who have nothing to say when the corpse of another black teenager shows up on the news. What’s that Desmond Tutu quote about remaining neutral in situations of injustice, again?
The choice to deliver these words over fast-paced punk rock is heavily meditated. While these lyrics would fit just as well over the acoustic, indie sound Oberst has gone with in the past, the speed at which these songs are delivered allows him to belt out more lyrics per measure; and it should be noted that the lyrics aren’t sung, they’re yelled.
My only existing complaint with Payola is that the production is almost too clean for me to want to classify it as a present day punk album. The thing though, of course, about punk music, is that it sounds a thousand times better when it’s front of you on a stage or in the corner of someone’s basement than it ever will bottled and sold on an LP.
The anger behind Payola is what sells the whole thing for me. Every song on this album is catchy, fast-paced, and pained. Payola isn’t just criticism, it’s a call to action. Desaparecidos is presenting our country’s issues in a way that you can digest and hold on to, and begging you to think about what it is that you’re supporting, what it is that you’re ignoring, what it means when you do nothing other than change your profile picture.
You Should Probably Listen To: “City On The Hill,” “MariKKKopa,” “Von Maur Massacre”
Overall Rating: 8/10