Release Date: Jan 24, 2019
Record label: Dead Oceans
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.
On their surprise collaboration, indie-folk heroes Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers find hope amid chaos; the record succeeds on its own merits, regardless of its authors' impressive statuses In the centre of the Venn diagram where the spirits of Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers meet, you’ll find something pretty special. Created from garage jam sessions in LA with a close circle of friends, 'Better Oblivion Community Center' was recorded in secret and released as a surprise to the weight of expectation. And succeeds as a standalone work, regardless of its authors’ statuses in the indie-folk world.
After weeks of cryptic brochures and strange voicemail recordings, Better Oblivion Community Center has been revealed as the new project of Bright Eyes leader Conor Oberst and singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers — even though promotional gimmicks are completely superfluous to the pair's songwriting gifts. The band's self-titled debut opens with the gorgeous "Didn't Know What I Was in For," a folksy ballad that laments the world's ills (homelessness, cancer, capitalism, the Syrian civil war), but also mocks our feeble attempts to help ….
Online forums were awash with rumours, though there was one theory more prevalent than most; that Better Oblivion Community Center was, in fact, a duo comprised of none other than Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst . Giveaways included reference to a Reverand Christian Lee Hutson on said flyer, i.e. singer-songwriter Christian Lee Hutson, who Bridgers has described previously as her favourite songwriter.
The Better Oblivion Community Center emerged on social media a couple of months ago posting cryptic tweets and asking people to put their addresses into a form on their website in order to receive a brochure that, when delivered, claimed it offered things such as 'assisted self-care' and 'sacred crystal implantation and removal' in its bizarre list of services. But rather than being some sort of dystopian spa-meets-therapy provider, the Center is instead a collaboration between Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst, who after meeting in LA a few years ago and collaborating on a few previous tracks and tours, have made a ten-track album that combines both of their styles to create something that doesn't sound quite like either of them. Opening with just Phoebe singing over an acoustic guitar, 'Didn't Know What I Was In For' paints the same kind of lyrical specificity and emotive storytelling that made Phoebe's 2017 debut 'Stranger In The Alps' so successful.
When Conor Oberst first heard the sad, conversational songwriting of Phoebe Bridgers, he felt compelled to get in touch. "It's nice to know you are out there singing this stuff," he told the 24-year-old Los Angelean after she sent an early version of her breakthrough debut, 2017's Stranger in the Alps. "I think lots of people will find good comfort in your songs.
The partnership of Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers as Better Oblivion Community Center is somewhat surprising, despite the obvious stepping stones that have got us here. Oberst and Bridgers have featured on a couple of each other's songs in the past, but the idea of forming a whole new band seems an odd one. On the one hand Conor Oberst has over two decades of material behind him and still maintains a passionate fanbase; he's not desperately in need of a new angle to re-position himself in the limelight.
The Lowdown: Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst are no strangers, with Bridgers opening for Oberst early in her career and Oberst singing alongside her on "Would You Rather" from her formidable debut, 2017's Stranger in the Alps. Still, it was surprising last week when the two announced that they had recorded Better Oblivion Community Center, an entire 10-track album, and then released it with almost no advance notice. Their styles fit naturally, as both Oberst and Bridgers have a knack for wry observation and wringing empathy out of their subjects.
Rating: NNNN It's no secret Phoebe Bridgers is heavily inspired by Bright Eyes, the band fronted by emo-folk poster boy Conor Oberst. Like Oberst's particular brand of raw melancholic musings, Bridgers's moody folk is equally devastating and dreamy as she sings about crappy exes and millennial solitude. So it's no surprise they've formed a new emo super-duo.
What happens when a versatile indie-folk figurehead teams up with one the most exciting songwriters of the past few years? Predictably, magic. Between his work with Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk and a multitude of solo material, Conor Oberst has revealed boundless energy for creation, mastering tear-inducing confessionals and good old fashioned rock stompers in equal measure. He's basically a beloved denim shirt in audio form - in the best possible way of course.