Album That Time Time Sort Of Forgot: Desaparecidos' 'Read Music/Speak Spanish'

Categories: Music
Bill Sitzmann

Today sees the stateside release of the Arcade Fire's third full-length album, The Suburbs, which supposedly kicks ass. Not having heard it, I will instead ruminate on another album about suburbs: Read Music/Speak Spanish, the first and only record by Omaha's Desaparecidos. The year was 2001, and the heyday of Saddle Creek Records was just beginning, with flagship acts Rilo Kiley, Cursive and Bright Eyes all about to release the best albums of their respective careers.

Conor Oberst, leader and at this point still pretty much sole occupant of the latter, still a tender 22, pre-facial hair and pre-Monsters of Folk, took a few months from his busy angst-warbling schedule to assemble a handful of local indie rock journeymen and rage out about, as Wikipedia puts it, "the sociopolitical state of affairs in America." The result was Desaparecidos (named, with characteristic martyrdom chic, after the term for political dissidents who agitated against South American military dictatorships and then quietly disappeared forever), a group that produced about a dozen songs and called it quits.

The lion's share of these are collected on Read Music/Speak Spanish, which came out on Saddle Creek in February 2002. The album suggests a Pinkerton-era Weezer stomping around in indignation about suburban sprawl instead of Rivers Cuomo's psychosexually fraught existence. Its sentiment is raw and preachy, the self-important vitriol of the more-or-less-informed juvenile mindset, but at the time it was refreshing to hear the ever-so-fragile Oberst do a little throat-clearing. More importantly, hindsight has borne out that the songs themselves, which Rolling Stone characterized as "anthemic thrash," kind of kick ass. (Guitarist Denver Dalley would go on to helm Statistics, which coupled the same satisfying post-Siamese Dream crunch with the most insipid lyrics imaginable.)

"Greater Omaha" and "Mall of America," for starters, both exemplify the contrast nicely. Desaparecidos went, uh, desaparecido later that year and didn't reunite until last week, when they headlined an Omaha benefit concert for The Sound Strike, an organization for musicians boycotting Arizona in protest of SB 1070. Oberst's anti-SUV agitation doesn't quite sound prophetic in light of all that's happened since 2002, but it's comforting, sort of, to observe history's way of recycling the relevance of "I don't wanna be ashamed to be American," from Read Music's lead single, "The Happiest Place on Earth." Which, for the record, anticipates the Arcade Fire's "I don't want to live in America no more" by at least a few years. And who are you gonna believe about that kind of thing anyway--a Midwesterner or a Canadian?

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