Album of the Week: Desaparecidos, 'Payola'

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Desaparecidos, 'Payola'
Desaparecidos, 'Payola' (© 2015 Epitaph Records.)

The new Desaparecidos album, Payola, is the Conor Oberst-fronted band's first record in 13 years, and the band sounds as vitriolic and ferocious as ever. Payola is an exhilarating, exhausting experience, somehow managing to sustain a remarkable intensity for its full 40 minutes.

One of Desaparecidos' defining aspects has always been Oberst's frantic vocals, a style emulated by myriad artists over the years, notably Titus Andronicus' Patrick Stickles. The effect of listening to Payola in its entirety is staggering, leaving one to wonder how Oberst is able to record any one of these songs without destroying his voice (or his body) let alone perform them. While, granted, I was coming down with a cold when first listening to Payola, my throat physically hurt after listening, a feeling which Oberst may slyly wink at on the song "Backsell." He describes the experience of listening to one of his songs, mentioning the "trickle in [the] throat" and how it's hard to hit all the notes, before roaring a digitally-enhanced "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8" countoff before plunging back into the music. It's a striking moment of self-awareness, as if Oberst is winking to the camera and saying, "on with the show!" If he can sing these songs, we should be more than capable of listening, and taking their messages to heart.

As with so much of Oberst's music, the subject matter of Payola could be described as "ripped from the headlines of Mother Jones." From the call-to-arms opener "The Left Is Right," it's a thorough documentation of disillusionment and contemplation on the state of America today, touching on Wall Street ("Golden Parachutes"), the prison-industrial complex ("MariKKKopa"), spree killings ("Von Maur Massacre," based on the real-life 2007 shooting) and the Chilean Winter ("Te Amo Camila Vallejo"), to name a few.

Payola is a colossal record, one that bears its rewards both in a condensed space, and over time. As listeners, we may need to take a breath, but Oberst is sure to let us know that the battle is ongoing, whether we're resting or not.

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Among The Current's listeners who submitted a rating for this album, 80 percent gave it 5 stars out of 5. Poll closed at 12 noon on Friday, July 10.

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  • Desaparecidos perform in The Current's studios Desaparecidos &#151; the name means "the disappeared ones" in Spanish &#151; did exactly that not long after their 2002 album, <i>Read Albums/Speak Spanish</i>. After reuniting and releasing a handful of singles, Desaparecidos are touring once more and stopped in to The Current's studios to talk to Bill DeVille.

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