Desaparecidos – “the disappeared ones”, originally the victims of the Argentine military junta – turned out to have been aptly named. Just as their righteous garage-punk diatribes were accruing a dedicated following in 2002, frontman Conor Oberst’s other project, Bright Eyes, took off in a big way and the band scattered.
Oberst subsequently carved a distinctive niche of confessional/political songwriting for himself, though his trademark impassioned delivery is perfectly suited to the raw, garage-punk style of Desaparecidos, here reunited to castigate the sluggish political landscape of America. “Come on, come on, there’s a lot to do, let’s get it done,” he hectors in “Slacktivist”, its alliance of fiercely riffing guitars and melodic potency recalling a more politicised Hüsker Dü. Elsewhere, anthems “Anonymous” and “The Left Is Right” celebrate the Anonymous hacker collective and the “goddam Robin Hoods” of the Occupy movement.
Oberst’s subject matter ranges from the specific – the Arizona police’s violent treatment of immigrants (“MariKKKopa”); a shopping-mall shooting in his hometown Omaha (“Von Maur Massacre”) – to the general dissatisfaction of songs such as “City On The Hill” and “Radicalized”, in which piercing, splintered guitar shards blend unnervingly into inchoate squeals and screams. Nor is his own position exempt from the all-round critical venom, as he excoriates the music industry’s pursuit of a successor to their “cash cow” Kurt Cobain in “Backsell”.
“They made optimism trite,” he fulminates elsewhere, bitter at the industry’s erosion of principles and hope. But listening to Oberst’s righteous rage, his tone a world away from his tender confessionals, one has to credit his dedication, 14 years on, to making them heard.