Review: Conor Oberst, Phoebe Bridgers make a grand duo
Better Oblivion Community Center (aka Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers), “Better Oblivion Community Center” (Dead Oceans)
Singer-songwriters Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers have been navigating the dark corners of their own minds, but now come together as Better Oblivion Community Center for a concerted effort. Pondering your own capacity for good, missing someone so much you want to dig them up from their grave, questioning what lies beyond death — “If we’re going somewhere I’m ready/If it’s just dirt I’m not” — these are the subjects Oberst and Bridgers explore and in these subjects, they lay themselves bare.
Those familiar with the careers of Bridgers and Oberst know that the two are poets, lyrically revealing even their darkest thoughts to audiences. Oberst’s songwriting has allowed him to stand out in his solo career and with his early work in indie rock band Bright Eyes. Bridgers is newer to the scene, releasing her debut “Stranger in the Alps” in 2017 and collaborating with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus to create the critically acclaimed group boygenius in 2018.
As Better Oblivion Community Center, Bridgers and Oberst commit to bringing dismal, burning imagery and salient pain into their writing. Their transparency is harrowing at times, but succeeds at being identifiable, reminding listeners that internal turmoil can be relatable in the end.
The album opens with “Didn’t Know What I Was in For,” relying heavily on the lyrics and distinctive vocals of Oberst and Bridgers to carry the weight of the track, while still incorporating a full band sound. “Service Road,” where the layering of Bridgers’ tender vocals over the strained, emotional sound of Oberst’s voice give the song a haunting quality, is accompanied by the searing imagery of a described brother, “Asking strangers to forgive him/But he never told them what it is/He did to them that made him feel so bad.”
A synthesizer creates an ethereal layer on the track “Chesapeake,” where Oberst and Bridgers again showcase their striking harmonization. “Forest Lawn,” named after the Los Angeles cemetery, is ambiguous (is the one missing deceased or out of touch?) and has a folk-quality to the style and writing.
It’s difficult to find fault in “Better Oblivion Community Center.” Beautiful in their melancholy, Bridgers and Oberst work as a grand duo on their powerful self-titled debut album.