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Reviewing the Conceptual Essence of Desaparecidos’ “Read Music/Speak Spanish”

In February 2002, Saddle Creek Records released Desaparecidos’ album “Read Music/Speak Spanish”. Desaparecidos was a side project for frontman Conor Oberst as he had already established a successful music career releasing multiple productions on Saddle Creek with his other band Bright Eyes.

But what Desaparecidos offers is a far cry from what could be considered another Bright Eyes album just with overdrive and more screaming. This album stands alone as a substantial piece of work that could have been released on any record label negating the moot arguments suggesting some kind of Saddle Creek Records nepotism considering the band later released the album “Payola” on Epitaph in 2015.

“Read Music/Speak Spanish” provides a hard-rock gritty collection of songs that challenge the usual dilemmas other punk bands have questioned in the past such as institutionalization, personal dysmorphia and hypocrisy, the fetishism of commodities, and discriminatory socioeconomic class structures.

But what separates this project from other punk albums is the cohesiveness in structure and adherence to the concepts it covers. There is no jumping around necessary in order to find a better song than the last as this is one of those records that should be consumed whole.

Musically, this album offers a distorted guitar-heavy foundation with catchy guitar harmonies weaved throughout in addition to a rhythmically detailed arrangement that perfectly accompanies the overall drive of the album and vocal melodies that are both infectious and thought-provoking.

Oberst does address the list of the aforementioned beaten-to-death societal topics, but he does so from an intellectually melancholic and perturbed place. It would be as if F. Scott Fitzgerald was to rewrite Das Kapital – an eloquent elaboration on the inefficiencies of monetary exchange and social homogeneity.

Consistent with the overall message of the album, songs “Greater Omaha” and “$$$$” perfectly encapsulates the dominance of money as a good and the subsequent consequences that come along with that including the encroachment of chain stores in otherwise small towns, the inequality of wealth distribution, and economic incentives we are all presented with through institutional education to join the monopolistic and oligopolistic endeavors of big businesses and multinational corporations.

On the other hand, songs like, “Man and Wife, The Former (Financial Planning)” and “Man and Wife, The Latter (Damaged Goods)” shed light on to how these institutions can affect us both individually and while in domesticated partnerships.

The music and overall formation of the album aside, the most enticing, romantic, and somber points made throughout this album are those most closely related to matters of the heart. Because while there are obvious complaints made with how society operates, this album acknowledges both the external bodies that have negative influences on all of us as working people and how those things can be internalized too.

Even for those that are not Bright Eyes or Oberst’s other projects like Monsters of Folk, “Read Music/Speak Spanish” is an album that can be appreciated by fans that like punk, that like songs with muddy yet perfectly harmonious guitar parts, and one that likes to be challenged on what they think is the best description for domesticated normalcy.

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