Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center
Conor Oberst has always been a source of inspiration for the breaktout star Phoebe Bridgers. She grew up playing Bright Eyes covers, and in fact she was only 10 when “First Day of My Life” was released. But with this surprise collaborative album, Bridgers does not sound like a student of Oberst; they are equal voices in the creative process with the entire record being composed together at Oberst’s LA home.
Bridgers has been quite prolific early on in her career. Just last year, she released an EP with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus under the boygenius moniker, and her own solo album Stranger in the Alps was universally well received in 2017. Oberst has also been busy, coming off the tail of two successful solo studio albums, Ruminations and Salutations. This is not the first time the two have partnered. Bridgers has been invited to open for Oberst, and that relationship led to Oberst lending vocals to the Phoebe Bridgers song “Would You Rather.”
The two told NME in an interview that they were decidedly against the folk duet trope of trading verses and lines with one another. Instead, they elect to spend most of their time singing in unison, a big plus for the most part. Such as on the opener “I Didn’t Know What I Was In For,” the two voices stack together to create some rather resounding moments. Lyrically, the two find captivating instances of self-reflection. “I didn't know what I was in for when I signed up for that run. There's no way I'm curing cancer, but I'll sweat it out.”
While the majority of the record stays within the quiet and confessional songwriting vein the two have both carved out for themselves, perhaps the most memorable song on the album is the energetic rocker “Dylan Thomas,” a cheeky and reactionary tune named after the Welsh poet. “These talking heads are saying ‘The king is only playing a game of four dimensional chess,” the two state in response to current political unrest while showcasing Bridgers ability to infuse humor into her writing.
Better Oblivion Community Center isn’t without its faults. In the midst of the aforementioned highlights, this album has its fair share of moments that come off as underdeveloped and overall too indistinguishable from the many hushed singer-songwriter projects out in the market. Perhaps the weakest song is “Exception to the Rule,” an awkward and half-baked attempt at a synth led number. It’s bogged down with ham fisted rhymes and an overly saccharine and sweet chorus.
At the end of the day, this is an innocuous side project for both the seasoned veteran and the newcomer quickly rising to the top of her peers. It is a showcase of their respective talents, but neither songwriter’s abilities are fully captured. Still, Bridgers and Oberst clearly have chemistry, and it’s exciting to see potential for more good music to come to fruition as a result.