Better Oblivion Community Centre // Oberst-Bridgers

Better Oblivion Community Centre // Oberst-Bridgers

The prolific singer-songwriter Conor Oberst has teetered on the edge of mainstream success for decades now. Some would say he never quite edged himself over the line. Regardless, it was his 2005 album ‘I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning’ that threw him into the hallways of folk history. Maybe Oberst sheds some light when he sings “Well I could have been a famous singer if I had someone else’s voice.”

And now, in 2019, it almost feels as though Oberst has gotten his wish. The album – Better Oblivion Community Centre – (BOCC) sees Conor teaming up with emerging artist Phoebe Bridgers, where his lyrical flare and wit has paired well with Bridgers’ hauntingly angelic voice. There was risk – Oberst’s folk-singer voice isn’t for everybody, and Bridgers’ solo work gives the impression of someone who is still growing in this industry. Thankfully, if you mix together Oberst’s talent for song-writing with Bridgers’ precious vocals, you uncover a marvellous pairing.

Here on the 37 minute record, Oberst achieves possibly his most accessible album since 2007’s ‘Cassadaga’. It’s a remarkably consistent affair and one that I have played front-to-back on repeat since release. Such consistency is something that I consider to be an often undervalued skill. It’s wonderful that every song feels necessary of its own accord – yes, it’s been done before, but such a feat remains impressive and noteworthy.

The opening track was the first song written by the duo. Both believed it wasn’t fitting for either of their solo works and thus, BOCC was born. The writing credits were split equally for every song, which leaves us to deliberate on which lines were written by whom. This ambiguity is a strength, with its clear stand that this was born from a determined joint-effort – a notion consistently held up.

The album’s lead single, Dylan Thomas, is a pulsing and poppy indie jam that sees the pair playing with an amusing rhyming scheme to jump and hop around the toe-tapping beat. Sleepwalkin’ plays wonderfully on the fine line between accessibility and a stripped-back nature; at times barebones and at times hovering closely around the indie-pop realm.

I do believe there is a song which I can point to as the weakest effort on offer. The penultimate track, Big Black Heart, wastes its glimpses of interesting ideas and erupts notably into a loud finale, but one that feels rather unearned and jarring.

The closing song, Dominos, is interestingly the only song that wasn’t written by the duo, but instead by a close friend of Oberst’s. It’s both retrospective and downbeat, and rounds the album off suitably. Oberst sings, to cap off the album, “If you’re not feeling ready, there’s always tomorrow.” Oberst has never sounded quite so positive in so quite many years and certainly, that is no bad thing.

 Better Oblivion Community Centre is out now!

Elliot Eppleston