By Kenneth Cox
Band: Better Oblivion Community Center
Album: Better Oblivion Community Center
Favorites: "Didn't Know What I Was In For," "Chesapeake," "Dylan Thomas"
Recommended If You Like: Phoebe Bridgers, Bright Eyes, Julien Baker
What would happen if the past and present met up together? Would the two go on their separate ways, or would something new be created? Better Oblivion Community Center’s debut album argues for the latter. The group is fronted by two stars of indie music’s past and present—Conor Oberst, who is best known for being the frontman of indie folk group Bright Eyes, and Phoebe Bridgers, the fast-rising singer/songwriter who garnered much attention for her 2017 debut record Stranger in the Alps.
This isn’t the first time Bridgers and Oberst have worked together.
The two collaborated on Bridgers’ track “Would You Rather,” which led to the duo making more music together. While they are from different eras, Better Oblivion Community Center shows how those different times can be bridged together, with fantastic results.
Bridgers and Oberst act as musical mirrors to one another.
Both artists are known for their folk stylings, delicate voices, and heartbreaking, incisive lyricism. So, it's no surprise that a full-length collaboration between the two works so well. From the album’s opening track, “Didn’t Know What I Was In For,” Bridgers and Oberst combine their musical sensibilities in a way that makes you think they’ve been working together for years. The song is an acoustic ballad that builds to a crashing conclusion with Bridgers and Oberst expressing their feelings of hopelessness and disconnect within the modern world. The song utilizes the duo’s individual strengths to great effect, with their voices joining together to become one singular entity.
“Dylan Thomas” is another standout track within the album.
Deceptively upbeat, the song features a peppy guitar riff and high-energy drums, but the lyrics tell another story. Bridgers and Oberst vent their frustrations with everything from modern politics to mass media. “I’m getting greedy with this private hell/I’ll go it alone, but that’s just as well” sing the duo, in perfect sync with each other. The two employ their brilliant skills for lyricism and melodies to make a track that is a sing-along with something to say.
The album’s most affecting moments are when the duo slows down and strips back their sound.
Take for example “Chesapeake,” an acoustic number which features the two considering the fleeting nature of art. “I can’t hardly wait/For someone to replace” sing Bridgers and Oberst, recognizing the nature of artists ebbing and flowing from their audience’s consciousness. It is the album’s quietest moment, but simultaneously one of its most stirring. “Service Road” is another track that shows the band at their best. Oberst takes up the vocals in the verses, singing about the grief he felt after the passing of his brother in 2016. “Say what you mean/and say it now” goes the song’s chorus, and one can feel the weight of the unspoken words that Oberst never had the chance to tell his brother. The confessional, honest lyrics of the track, paired with the duo’s voices make for an overwhelmingly emotional track.
Better Oblivion Community Center is the first record between Bridgers and Oberst, but hopefully, it will not be their last. The two are a natural fit for each other, and use their individual talents for songwriting to incredible effect. The album covers a variety of emotions and sounds, but tying the ten tracks together is the humanity and honesty Bridgers and Oberst bring.