Desaparecidos - Payola (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Payola (2015)

Epitaph Records

First off, yes, you've heard quite a bit of Payola already. Let's get that out the way. Secondly, Conor Oberst continues to show why he's still one of the most powerful voices in the punk arena today. The 13-year wait's been worth it because Desaparecidos once more churn out a melodic, fist-raised-in-the-air political-punk art piece that'll do well to remind the general public of the change we clamor, cry out for and that which we need.

There are few surprises here if you're familiar with the band as it's packed with shout-along anthems, mired in unrest and as usual, a perfect mouthpiece for Oberst to wage war over. He's as angry and restless as ever, utilising a guest cast that includes Cursive's Tim Kasher, Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace and the So So Glos -- all smartly put together by long-time collaborator/producer, Mike Mogis. Great news if you're a fan of Bright Eyes and looking for something unsettling. From the power-pop roughness of "The Left is Right" to the shrill "City on the Hill," this album's anchored in an abrasive POV of American society and the guys absolutely pull no punches. The tracks don't hesitate to call society on their shit and without getting too preachy or bogged down in messages. If you love their straightforward attitude, then you're in for a treat.

Payola, as with the body of Desaparecidos' work, is defined by a lot of influences, as they channel straight-up punk to less-than-subtle hardcore influences, with Oberst's warbled lyrics revealing a band that's been through a lot but still ready to stick with the fight. The album's very politically charged, fueled by a lot of personal grievances and compact in how in-your-face it gets. "Te Amo Camila Vellejo" is one of the strongest tracks on offer, with a cleverly done Spanish interlude, that helps amp things up before a crashing finale -- rasping guitars, incessant kit work and Oberst straining every vocal chord he has. It's quite symbolic, not only of Payola but of the majority of Desaparecidos' work. This time around, it's much more indie and charming than usual (reference the twinkly, guitar-cutting "Ralphy's Cut").

Ultimately, the band ends up playing off each and every strength, backed by Oberst doing what he does best. In terms of production and timing of the barrage of messages on offer through Payola, I'd say this is their best collective of tunes to date. They haven't reinvented much or flipped their usual script but something about this production and the ever-growing angst of Oberst seem to hit home a bit harder this time around. I guess it's how he holds up the mirror allowing us to see our reflections. After all, that's the role of the artist, right? And it's one Desaparecidos do so well.