‘Von Maur Massacre’ by Desaparecidos
From the album Payola (2015)
Desaparecidos, Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes fame’s politically charged punk band, released their first album in 13 years last month. Payola comes as a follow-up to their utterly sublime first album, Read Music/Speak Spanish and picks up where the former left off as an anthem-packed, politically charged eardrum killer. I’ve selected ‘Von Maur Massacre’ as my Track of the Week, not because it has the best message or is the most hard-hitting, but just because it has the most killer guitar/synth riff on the album. That and the fact that it wasn’t one of half a dozen songs from the album to be released in the three years leading up to Payola dropping.
Ian Cohen, writing for Pitchfork, notes that some of the references on the album feel dated (see autotune on ‘Backsell’ and references to Occupy) and I must admit to feeling a little cheated by this album; a quick look on my iTunes tells me that I bought/downloaded ‘Anonymous’, ‘The Left is Right’, ‘MariKKKopa’, ‘Backsell’ and ‘City on the Hill’ before the release of the album. Nonetheless, as a complete package, I have been almost unable to stop listening to it.
Anyway, ‘Von Maur Massacre’ tells the story of a shooting that took place in a mall in Desaparecidos’ hometown of Omaha, Nebraska in which a lone gunman murdered nine people (himself included) in a six-minute semi-automatic rifle rampage. Has the ‘Greater Omaha’ that Oberst sang about on Read Music… contributed to this? Does the growth of consumer-capitalism coupled with the willingness of the consumers to take this beating leave people like Hawkins (the shooter) behind and leave them wanting ‘to take a few pieces of shit with [them]’ when they rampage against the people that have neglected them?
The pace of the song is relentless, kicked off by the aforementioned riff and moving full tilt through its 2 minutes 26 seconds. Noticeably, there is a different approach to vocals by Conor Oberst than on the first album when he would have undoubtedly screamed all of those words until they were unintelligible. His annunciation of the words in the chorus:
Even dead and gone I’ll live forever
They will know my name
under Matt Baum’s snare blasts, attempts, and pretty much succeeds, to put you into the mind of Robert Hawkins as he headed out to commit the atrocity that reverberated throughout Omaha and America. This new approach brings a more punk edge to Desaparecidos’ sound, a little more accessible perhaps, along with the recognisable lyrical themes, than the hardcore-edged, generalised and somewhat insular Read Music…
I think I may still prefer Read Music/Speak Spanish to Payola, but there are some top-notch songs on the album, ‘Von Maur Massacre’ included, that put it a close second of two in Desaparecidos’ disappointingly (but not disappointing) small back catalogue.