Mad Music Monday is a weekly column about records, written by Courtney Caldwell. Got an album you’d like to see reviewed? Let us know!
When Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes fame) and Desaparecidos released their debut album Read Music Speak Spanish, the world was still reeling from the events of 9/11 that had taken place mere months prior. The political climate was shifting in ways that would have seemed unimaginable just a year earlier. Thirteen years later, Payola fast forwards to the issues facing the world today. In 2015, much has changed, and Payola is Desaparecidos attempt to follow suit. In many ways, they succeed, and in others? Not so much.
Musically, the album is more pop than hardcore, but just punk enough to hearken to the Sex Pistols. Desaparecido’s dim view of our state of affairs is realistic, even when the solutions provided aren’t. At points the record feels antiquated, building strawmen against internet activism. To quote The Verge:
We’ve heard the complaints about “internet activism” for years now, and they usually come from the same guy who’s convinced Kim Kardashian is at the root of the world’s problems.
In “The Left Is Right,” Oberst rails against capitalism and sets a scene where protests begin by chaining oneself to an ATM. It’s tempting to make the argument that there more respectable ways to make your point, but we all know respectability politics are garbage. Besides, a punk song about calling your legislator sounds terrifically boring. Regardless, “Golden Parachutes” (featuring the talented and lovely Laura Jane Grace) is much better suited as an anti-capitalist critique:
It’s a frat house full of silver spoons
Watching pornography of busts and booms
It’s a locker room of CFOs telling racist jokes
There’s an argument to be had that, in light of the issues of race and police brutality currently being hashed out on the national stage, shouting about ATMs feels outdated. Perhaps Desaparecidos is the Bernie Sanders of punk rock, profoundly certain that all societal ills can be fixed economically. Perhaps Desaparecidos hasn’t completely caught up to the progressive movements of the time.
Not to say that Payola doesn’t address issues of racism. My favorite track on the album is MariKKKopa, which takes on Sheriff Joe Arpaio (arguably another dated reference, no doubt) and the ludicrous idea of white people who feel persecuted:
They scream, “It’s time we had some justice for the white race on this earth. This place is strange and getting stranger.”
Desaparecidos as a band wants to be both protestors and musicians. It can be argued whether they’re doing the former well, but the music holds up on its own. Full of caustic rage, and thirteen years of pent-up animosity at a post-9/11 world, this is Oberst at his best since I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. And let’s be honest… as far as protest rock goes, it isn’t the worst thing to happen this century.
Featured Image by Courtney Caldwell