Review Summary: I'm getting greedy with this private hellBetter Oblivion Community Center
opens with the powerful whisper of “Didn’t Know What I Was in For.” It's one the most delicate tracks, but lyrically it finds Phoebe Bridgers at her most profound. Lacking a phone with a camera, the songwriter confesses what she would capture in the world around her if she had a fancier device. Finding beauty in the ugly, she’d snag a snapshot of “the man on the off-ramp, holding up the sign that’s asking me for help.” This is what I love about Bridgers. Her ability to appreciate the every-day sh*t around us and turn it into poetry is nothing short of astounding. And hey, what do you know, the other half of Better Oblivion Community Center has a similar gift.
Conor Oberst has been around a lot longer than Phoebe Bridgers, but despite their differences in age and experience, their music shares a similar aesthetic. Both artists claw their way under your skin, but sooth the pain with huge melodies and a slightly tongue-in-cheek nature. The more I think about it, the pairing of Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers makes perfect sense. Not that much proof was needed. The two songwriters already meshed well together in “Would You Rather”, from Bridger’s breakthrough debut, Strangers in the Alps.
However, this collaboration is proof these two musicians bring out the best in each other. Better Oblivion Community Center proudly contains some of the best material each artist has been a part of. “Service Road”, a dark Americana track with a depressing mood, is among Oberst’s most affecting work to date. It has vintage Bright Eyes written all over it, but the lyrics regarding the loss of a family member and added vocal harmonies elevate it to another level. Bridgers is also at the top of her game here; the opening track and “Dylan Thomas” are as memorable as anything on Stranger in the Alps.
The latter is a playful, pop-heavy track where Bridger’s continues to obsess over darkness in her storytelling. On her debut, she portrayed visions of death and Dahmer; this time she’s entering the setting of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Lines like I’m getting greedy with this private hell/I’m taking a shower at the Bate’s Motel
are given the opportunity to thrive within Bridger’s unforgettable melodies.
Collaboration albums can be tricky to pull off, but Better Oblivion Community Center
excels due to a strong sense of balance. It allows both musicians a chance to do their thing and take the reigns, and at other times they seem perfectly in-sync with each other. Unlike the breezy but predictable Boygenius effort, this LP also gives us a chance to see a different side of Bridgers we haven’t exactly heard before. These moments are brief, but highly effective. The tail end of “Big Black Heart” coasts to the finish line on muddy, glitchy instrumentals – with Bridgers and Oberst shouting frantically against the feedback. Boisterous electric guitar parts are scattered throughout the album as well, giving an extra kick when necessary. For fans of Bright Eyes or Conor Oberst’s solo material, it’s also a rock-solid affirmation the man is still capable of brilliant songwriting. Better Oblivion Community Center
is a collaboration that feels too good to be true, but here we are. It’s full of charming melodies, carefully placed harmonies, and biting lyrics from two of the most influential songwriters around. Some days you just get lucky.