Review: Better Oblivion Community Center

Jacob Tracey

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2018 shaped up to be the year of unexpected duos blowing critics and listeners minds alike! From Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper to Kanye West & Kid Cudi, great minds came together all last year to create beautiful and stunning albums. Continuing that trend into 2019, alternative and indie music have been blessed by a new perfect singer/songwriter duo, Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst as Better Oblivion Community Center. Phoebe Bridgers created waves in music with her beautiful debut album Stranger in the Alps, which showcased her beautiful guitar styling along with her quiet yet powerful voice. Connor Oberst has been an indie alternative giant from his work with his band Bright Eyes to his solo work. Bright Eyes began in the late 90s/Early 2000’s and gained fame through their brilliant album I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning especially with songs like “First Day of My Life” and “Lua.” Given all this songwriting power, it’s no surprise that Better Oblivion Community Center turned out as a powerful work of Indie/Alternative music with some preeminent songwriting along with gorgeous instrumentation.

The duos self-titled debut is filled with some acoustic guitar heavy songs reminiscent of Boygenius and Iron & Wine, along with some more chill rock heavy songs similar to Snail Mail and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. That being said, Bridgers and Oberst still make their debut album unique and one stand out from the crowd of other indie alternative artists. From their heartbreaking opener “Didn’t Know What I Was in For” to the beautiful center piece “Exception to the Rule.” Many songs on this album stood out to me and brought the best parts of both artists side projects and solo projects together to form something so honest and special.

One of the most surprising but brilliant elements to this album is that it doesn’t feel like a duet record. With other duet records, you hear lots of harmony and almost formulaic lyrics and instrumentation with a just a little bit more passion than a solo record (that’s not to say all duet albums are like this!), but with Better Oblivion Community Center the listener mostly hears Bridgers and Oberst singing in unison the whole time or on their own in various sections. While this sounds like it could get old really quick, it actually makes the album feel that much more personal and really captures the essence of two good friends getting together and freeing their emotions out through distant melodies and personal lyrics.

“Dylan Thomas” is a perfect example of this. The song almost acts like an ode to the brilliant poet of the same name, who dies at age 39 from excessive drinking. One of my favorite lines on the whole album is from this song, which the duo sings “So sick of being honest. I’ll die like Dylan Thomas, a seizure on the barroom floor.” The lyrics capture the feeling of being so sick and tired of the world and wanting to escape it through any means possible. It’s a moment on the album that feels so private but relatable and a moment that carries on through each and every song from “Forest Lawn,” the Iron & Wine esk song about wanting someone back, to the grittier pulsing synth heavy “Exception to the Rule.”

Better Oblivion Community Center is an alternative indie album that only comes every once in a while. Not only does it feature raw and emotionally vulnerable lyrics, but it also includes some of the best vocal lines and guitar parts heard this year! Be sure not to sleep on this record and give it a couple of listens. I know I haven’t stopped since it came out.