Released June 23, 2015
It’s been 13 years since Desaparecidos released its first album Read Music/Speak Spanish, but fans can rest assured, Payola picks up where it left off. The lyrics are politically-charged, anti-capitalist calls to action, delivered with a sting that is to be expected from the band’s frontman, Conor Oberst (best known as the lead singer of Bright Eyes). Oberst simply isn’t having this generation’s apathetic attitude — he criticizes complacency and slacktivism (“Donate a dollar with my coffee and save someone / Calling all friends I loosely know / We’re a tight knit clique in the virtual”). The group released Read Music/Speak Spanish when the United States was just beginning to recover from 9/11, the economy was crashing, and the Iraq War was just beginning. It’s fitting that Payola was released just as candidates begin to announce their intentions to run in the 2016 presidential primaries.
Oberst’s distinctive lyrics and wavering vocals are certainly identifiable in Payola, but unlike his other more folk-oriented projects, Desaparecidos has an unmistakable punk edge with punchy guitar riffs and heavy use of drums. The band has been compiling songs for this album for years, but the time lapse isn’t surprising since all of the members — Conor Oberst (vocals and guitar), Landon Hedges (bass guitar and vocals), Matt Baum (drums), Denver Dalley (guitar), and Ian McElroy (keyboard) — play in other groups or have branched off into solo work. The fact that the band seems to view Desaparecidos as more of a project than a set group makes each album more meaningful — pieces of statement art, each meant to stand on its own — not just records to advance the band’s album output.
Payola is an unforgiving and abrasive criticism of war, violence, racism, capitalism, politics, crooked businessmen and politicians, and citizen apathy — a lot to pack into 14 songs and a total play time of about 40 minutes. The track “Anonymous” is a clear nod to the cyber hacktivist group; it includes their trademark catchphrase “So we do not forgive and we do not forget / We are legion, expect us” in a verse and “You can’t stop us / We are Anonymous” in the chorus. My favorite tracks on the album were “Golden Parachutes”, a jab at capitalism and hyper-entitled CEOs (“They’re all betting men who never lose / And float away on golden parachutes”), and “MariKKKopa,” a (morbidly?) catchy tune about racism and violence in the Arizona town Maricopa.
Overall, it’s a strong album — it’s catchy but to the point. You can buy Payola on iTunes or Amazon (or check it out on Spotify), and Desaparecidos will be playing at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston on August 4, 2015.