By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
By Harley Oliver Brown
Today, the guys complain about the girls, the girls complain about themselves, and everybody complains about their parents and YOOOUUUU!!!!! The only big hit rock song to take a political bent in recent months was Jimmy Eat World's "Bleed American," which noted that Americans watch TV and take pills. The band sounded more sincere noting that "everything, everything will be all right." A combo that opened up for that clean-cut quartet this summer, though, managed to bring a few new subjects into the canon.
Desaparecidos are a five-piece out of Omaha, Nebraska, led by Conor Oberst (the voice of mondo-melodramatic folk-pop conglomerate Bright Eyes) and Denver Dalley (a really big Weezer fan). Their out-since-February debut record, Read Music/Speak Spanish, is not only the most unflinchingly catchy rock to come out of an indie label since "Slack Motherfucker," but entirely obsessed with how the State of America Today affects sensitive humans who reside in it.
The album starts with the sound of young women describing their ideal husbands until a radio-ready riff tells us we're firmly in the hands of grade-A distorto-guitar melodica. Oberst then describes getting that first loan on the way to complete financial servitude in order to provide for his lover. As his voice wavers with anguish, he promises "we'll graduate that middle class/get a nicer car full of shopping bags." Three songs later, he flips roles and yelps in fear that she's nothing but a wage slave ("And you will stay like that forever/right in front of your computer") and that "a lifetime gets chalked up to an experience."
Meanwhile, Dalley and the gang have treated us to every modern rock hook in the book: the Weezer waltz, the stop-on-a-dime punk blitz, the keyboard-inflected power ballad, all played with undeniable heaviness. "$$$$" even throws in some frenetic advertising sound bites, both reminding indie vets of Dinosaur Jr.'s You're Living All Over Me and introducing a whole new group of kids to an underused bit of music shtick.
The album's obvious touchstone is Weezer's epochal Pinkerton, whose legacy will only grow with the years to come. But where that album focused solely on Rivers Cuomo's plight in trying to find romance despite his self-loathing, Oberst suffers from a different heartbreak, that of a small-town bohemian seeing the world and those around him homogenizing before his eyes. In a music scene focused on adolescent fears, Desaparecidos sound strikingly post-collegiate in their angstOberst himself, it turns out, dropped out of college.
Conor spits himself silly over the commercialization of "Greater Omaha" (he even gets to comment on the "restaurants per capita"), while "$$$$" and "Survival of the Fittest/It's a Jungle Out There" provide stream-of-consciousness views of a life where greed is staggeringly commonplace and unavoidable. "Hole in One" closes the album, with Oberst's fears about his own generation expressed in the third ("Adolescence made her an activist/Now she's the one who does all the lecturing") and first ("never mind the shit that I sing about because I'd sell myself to buy a fucking house") person. The disc's only bum line is a bit of self-indulgence about how rocking out is going to "murder his folk career."
Desaparecidos don't settle for vague slogans like Rage Against the Machine or (please forgive me) Fugazi, and passion and melodicism keep Read Music/Speak Spanish from devolving into mere harangue. The record reminds us what indie rock was once about: young punks in mid-American capitals, shrieking about the world around them over top-notch hooks until everyone listened.