Desaparecidos: Read Music/Speak Spanish (Saddle Creek)

Cynicism reigns from song to song.

In this loud, fuming nine-song record from Bright Eyes leader Conor Oberst’s side band, the 22-year-old lashes out at SUVs, cul-de-sacs, malls, Starbucks, the Army, Diesel, Prada, Disney, television, doctors, lawyers, and politicians. Those who were won over by 2002’s wonderful, generous-hearted Bright Eyes record, Lifted: Or the Story is In the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, may come away from Read Music wondering one thing: Where’s the love?

Indeed, love was Lifted’s fuel throughout, from the first song, “And the wind is going to scatter/and cover everything with love” to the last, with Oberst climaxing into exhaustion, singing, “How grateful I was to be part of the mystery/to love/and to be loved/let’s just hope that is enough.”

On Read Music, it isn’t. Cynicism reigns from song to song, with Oberst claiming, “There are no art forms now just capitalism” in “Mall of America,” and “These amber waves/purple majesty/are nothing but backdrops for Disney” on “Hole in One.” The music matches the lyrics’ heavy hand: the guitars are electric and scorching, the drums pounding, and Oberst’s accompanying voice, which on Lifted shifted between exclamatory and roughly soft, is one long scream.

What may divide listeners of this record is age. Some with a few working years behind them may no longer be up for raging socio-politico rants from someone so young. (And for those, there’s Pedro the Lion’s terrific Control, which scathes the same consumerist sheen with less foaming-at-the-mouth, and more distance.) But the younger fans—and most of Oberst’s fans are these—may slide right into the rants and get fired up by Oberst’s trapped-in-a-dryer screaming. And they might even catch themselves singing along to the closing lines of “$$$$”: “Let’s march under the golden arch. March! March! March! March!”

But even then—as Oberst would surely tell you—singing along would be missing the point.

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