Review Summary: A chandelier of hope in a wooden cabin of despair and darkness.
Mid-year Review Series: (Part 3)
Locked in a room with a plain white wall, with a TV that only has one channel, a similarly white bed, a wooden closet with only the same white patient uniforms, a window sealed by a thick, metal combination lock, where behind it is a scenery of an endless forest. This scene perhaps portrays the overall calmly unsettling dystopia of Better Oblivion Community Centre
, the debut record by the indie rock duo with the same name that consists of Phoebe Bridgers
and Conor Obrest
. Unlike the former’s swirling, confessional folk-pop and the latter’s serrated indie-rock, this album features a rustic yet mesmerizing indie-folk sound that simultaneously sounds like the mixture of both artist’s signature sounds and unique at its own right, as it contrasted both vocalists’ signature sounds together. With Bridgers’ dreamy, sweet vocals and Obrest’s ragged, warm voice, this semi-conceptual album paints a post-modern world that is swarmed with dystopian politics, capitalism, selfishness and many more, resulting in a slightly flawed yet nevertheless impressive album.
The lush, melancholic opener “Didn’t Know What I Was in For” alone speaks its impressive volume: Driven by the acoustic guitar strumming, with the duo lamented about the dark reality of the modern world, from the struggles of keeping up the trend(“My telephone, it doesn't have a camera/If it did I’d take a picture of myself
”), the forced alienation in the society(“They told me I'd gone crazy/My arms are strapped in a straight jacket
”), being labeled as cynical for being honest(“When I laid out in the sun/We get burned for being honest
”), among many issues, while the buzzing e-bow sprinkled on the duo’s swirling, impeccable vocal mixture, resulting in a breathtaking opener that sets the tone of the indie-folk sound of this album. On the other hand, the duo showcased both their lyrical and vocal ability, as they poked fun of the surging Trumpism wittily while surfing amid the waves of buzzing guitars and rumbling percussion in the catchy “Dylan Thomas”, questioning their own feelings in the tempo-shifting “Sleepwalkin’”, mourning Obrest’s brother in a sparse yet dense “Service Road”, bringing in the Big Star
’s heartbreaking power-pop in “Chesapeake”, screamed about their lack of horizon in the fuzz guitar-driven “Big Black Heart”, or embracing deaths in the brooding cover song “Dominos”, showcasing their broad scope that none of the members’ previous projects achieved. With such a spectrum of music within this album, the duo churned out some intriguing and indelible pieces that not even their most devoted fans would not predict, while further representing themselves as musicians who are not afraid of branching out their palettes.
At times, though, the album is hindered slightly by the album’s less captivating moment. Whether is it the rather confounding electronica experiment in “Exception to the Rule”, the vague lyrics and rather annoyingly repetitive acoustic guitar loop in “My City”, or in the rather sonically plain “Forest Lawn”, these moments sadly becomes a tripping stone that also degrades the consistency of this album, despite the fact that the quality of these songs are still decent enough to be made into the cut. Furthermore, there are songs where the vocals were imbalanced in the mix, such as moments where the vocals of both singers would occasionally fight each other in the chorus of “Sleepwalkin’”, or where Obrest somehow overpower Bridgers in “Forest Lawn” and “Dominos”, or even the other way around in the pre-coda sections of “Big Black Heart”, or even just simply messy in “Exception to the Rule”, which unfortunately wear down some of the charms in the record. Even with all the flaws, they somehow also serve as double-edged features that enhance the mystique of the record and thus preserving the unique sonic features of the record.
Despite the album’s weaker songs and the imbalanced vocal mix affected this album’s quality in a minor degree, Better Oblivion Community Centre
is nonetheless a gorgeous, rusty indie-rock record that further proves this is just simply another project by both members. A sonic equivalent to an unpolished, second-rate glass, delicate, cloudy with a rough edge, the effort of the rather surprising duo of a rising folk-pop songstress and a folky indie-rock veteran is one that contemporary folk and indie-rock listeners must experience, albeit that there are few moments that some might want to press the skip button. It is neither a project where Phoebe Bridgers tries her hand on writing a Bright Eyes
album with her own spin and help of the former Bright Eyes frontman, nor the latter goes poppier with the help of a female singer-songwriter, both of which are ideas where some less enthusiastic listeners may throw, but a smooth record of two talented singer-songwriters to create a unique piece of music. As a result, the result is a unique amalgam of folk, power pop and indie rock, something that neither members ever explored prior. One that is one of the best albums of 2019.
Personal Rating: 4.1 / 5
Didn’t Know What I Was in For