Late Tuesday night Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst, two of folk-rock’s biggest names, one new, one old, hinted at a project titled Better Oblivion Community Center. Speculation of exactly what it was swirled when the two posted a mysterious phone number leading to an odd voicemail. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, their full-length, self-titled album appeared.
Better Oblivion Community Center is the outcome of a now two-year friendship beginning with Bridgers and Oberst playing the same benefit show. Bridgers would play early demos of tracks that would eventually become her debut record Stranger in the Alps and Oberst enjoyed her work so much that he eventually would ask for her to open for him on tour. In a recent interview with NME, the two joked that while on tour they wrote one song together with a one-off track in mind, but that it went so well it eventually became a full-length album.
Even though their friendship is somewhat new, each track off the record feels as if Bridgers and Oberst have been friends for years, each knowing the others deepest fears and failures. Oberst described the name of the band as having “a sense of impending doom, but that we are all doomed together,” which is the perfect way to describe the feeling of the album. There is a feeling of deep emotion and sadness throughout each track, but the way Bridgers and Oberst work off of each other seems to make it all okay.
The opening track, “Didn’t Know What I Was in For,” touches on the idea of being vulnerable and open to the world, but getting shut down and criticized for what you’re doing. The dual harmony that they present gives off a feeling of togetherness that seems to run through the entire album. That the two understand the struggles of each other and that even though it sucks, they at least have each other.
Tracks like “Service Road” and “Chesapeake” find the duo in a recognizable, almost fragile style of songwriting that can be found throughout the solo discographies of Oberst and Bridgers. While these songs may sound familiar to fans of both artists and are expected, the album as a whole is an eclectic collection full of songs that stray away from both songwriters’ usual style. “Dylan Thomas” is a light and electric song seemingly about the way the two feel about the state of the country around them. Others like “Exception to the Rule” and “Big Black Heart” find the two also straying away from their usual folky-emo leanings.
Oberst was not only describing the feeling of the band name when he related it to having a communal sense of doom, despite each song carrying that same idea. Yes, each song finds the two being their sad, vulnerable and honest selves, but they are doing it not as Phoebe Bridgers and Connor Oberst, but together as Better Oblivion Community Center.