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Better Oblivion Community Center

Better Oblivion Community Center

Dead Oceans

Jan 28, 2019 Better Oblivion Community Center Bookmark and Share

Coming off the back of one of the best albums of 2017 (Stranger in the Alps) and her lauded side-band boygenius with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers launches wholeheartedly into another meeting of the minds here with Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst as Better Oblivion Community Center. Of course, he’s hit a career resurgence recently too, with the double-header of Ruminations and its companion piece Salutations.

Here, though, we have a record that certainly bears the stamp of both its co-creators but at the same time offers, surprisingly, a little more than the sum of its parts.

Firstly, Bridgers and Oberst wisely eschew the duet clichés, and do so deftly. There’s no call-and-response, tit-for-tat role-play here, just a set of remarkably strong songs from a pair of artists who seem to not only struggle with the same fears and traumas but also share the same glimpses of hope.

Bridgers tempers Oberst’s usual verbosity, leading him into simpler, clearer structures as on the pounding, hefty surge of “Dylan Thomas” (“I’ll die like Dylan Thomas/A seizure on the bar room floor”), their voices melding magically in melancholia.

Oberst, conversely, pushes Bridgers in some fresh musical directionsthe Digital Ash in the Digital Urn-era electro sounds of “Exception to the Rule” or the full-on, grungy, rock n’ romance of rough hewn highlight “Big Black Heart.”

Oberst’s wavering croak and Bridgers’ chiming bell vocal perhaps shouldn’t work on paperyet here, on songs like “Service Road,” which would feel like a Ruminations outtake were it not for Bridgers supernatural backing vocals, they could not be more suited.

The oft-worn themes of addiction, loss, and doomed romance are as prevalent as one would expect“Dominos” for instance, with its lyric “It gets dark in the morning/Trade sleep for drinks in a bar” teeters on the verge of self parody; that is until Bridgers as Emmy Lou swoops in to save the day.

There’s fun to be had here, by the way. The simply arranged, Replacements and Guns N’ Roses referencing “Chesapeake” is a perfect, bright ballad with a classic Oberst couplet to boot“My hero plays to no-one in a parking lot/Even though there’s no-one around you broke a leg and the house came down.” “My City” is a straightforward lil’ country jaunt that, while disposable, is eminently enjoyable too.

From the opener “Didn’t Know What I Was In For” with its refrain of “I’ve never done anything for anyone” to the closing line of “Dominoes” and it’s stoic, smiling kiss-off“If you’re not feeling ready/There’s always tomorrow”this is a cohesive, creative, and multi-faceted record that will over-joy fans of both artists while offering the spark of magic that so rarely comes with these kinds of collaborations. (

Author rating: 8.5/10

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