Written by: TL on 22/07/2015 15:14:13

Back in 2002, Conor Oberst's politically charged emo-punk band Desaparecidos - named after the political dissidents who "disappeared" under Pinochet’s rule in Chile from '73 to '90 - was growing following the release of their debut "Read Music/Speak Spanish". But Oberst's indie-folk band Bright Eyes grew faster, demanding too much of his time, so Desaparecidos went their separate ways, and alternative girls around the world got a career's worth of introspective tunes to get teary-eyed to, while anyone who liked Oberst best when he was angry had to settle for (the admittedly excellent) "Road To Joy" and supposedly that was that.

Following the release of Bright Eyes' self-declared final record in 2011, however, Oberst and his fellow Desaparecidos have been finding time to get together again, both to play reunion shows and to record the odd song or two in collaboration with Oberst's Bright Eyes compadre Mike Mogis. And eventually, the fruits of their sessions were compiled and released as "Payola", the Nebraskans' second album arriving a mere thirteen years after their first.

As an album, "Payola" is a record out of time in more ways than one. In the modern climate, the black and white viewpoints of punk- and protest songs have long been out of fashion, and with political rage and indignation being emotions that many grow out of with age and experience, you could worry if Oberst, now in his mid-thirties, could even pull still pull them off. As it turns out, however, doubting Oberst's talents is more futile than ever, as "Payola" is almost invariably furious as all hell.

Forget about whatever emo or post-hardcore labels you've read attached to the band, Desaparecidos are a raging punk rock band, and now more than ever. You can hear it in how most of the progressions on the album are as simple, yet gritty and forceful as those on an Off With Their Heads record, but with the added nuances Ian McElroy's keyboards really helping the band stand apart from the main body of contemporary American punk rock acts. And then of course there are Oberst's lyrics, written and sung with bitter irony the likeness of which is rarely seen except perhaps in New Jersey's Titus Andronicus.

The album is a fourteen track banquet table where there's plenty of anger to go around, with Oberst dispersing scorn to racists, "slacktivists" and major label music industry practices to name a few. And where some punk rock bands content themselves with shaking fists against vague and unnamed spectres of oppression, "Payola" is comparatively volatile as a result of it being pretty clear who or what is under fire in each song, with sampled news clips or the likes even being edited in if there was any doubt.

Apart from being specifically vitriolic, however, "Payola" is - more importantly - really fucking catchy. "MariKKKopa" is the prime example, sung from the ironic perspective of white racists in Arizona, while "Backsell" is great as well, calling out labels like Capitol and Interscope, even if its remarks on recording techniques have some rare feelings of unintentional irony to them considering that "Payola" sounds so excellent (not that the points don't still stand even if Mogis and the band did touch up the recording in an acceptable manner).

Considering that "Payola" tackles roughly one major injustice in society pr. song, there are probably arguments to be had over whether the band has held controversial subjects hostage in a crusade that is actually just about venting through good songs, or if they do more to put their efforts and their money where their mouths are when they're not out rocking and rolling. But that doesn't make "Payola" a worse record. In fact, if you take how catchy it is, add how refreshing it is to finally hear Oberst snarl and roar (even if he sounds doubled most of the time), then add the depths you can find if you feel inspired or provoked to investigate the very real issues behind each song, and then add the fact that you can have a whole meta-consideration over the legitimacy of a certified indie-folk star suddenly deciding he wants to sing protest songs again... Then "Payola" figures as a pretty damn worthwhile listen. It is a bit long perhaps, for a record that is almost invariably pissed off, but considering its "compilation" nature and the fact that it is the first new album in thirteen years, it seems fair to forgive that as a mere trifle.


Download: MariKKKopa, The Left Is Right, Radicalized, Anonymous
For The Fans Of: Titus Andronicus, Against Me, Andrew Jackson Jihad, Future Of The Left

Release date 23.06.2015

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