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. Their chemistry clicks immediately on opener ‘I Didn’t Know What I Was In For’, which is sung from the point of view of someone working a temporary job and driven insane by the futility of everything they see. The open road anthem of ‘Sleepwalkin’ weighs up the give-and -take of living through a period of change, the narrators hoping “to find out I’m fine with what I’ve lost”.
Album highlight ‘Dylan Thomas’ best captures the spirit of the record, with Bridgers and Oberst equally sharing vocal duties on a searing and poetic alt-country questioning of life in modern America, feeling “so sick of being honest” while questioning if Trump is the buffoon we believe or if “the king is only playing a game of four-dimensional chess“. It’s already a gem even before Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner chimes in with a subtle but sick guitar solo.
Surprise comes with the bubbling electronica of ‘Exception To The Rule’, though this stylistic deviation stays within the realm of the record’s anxious vibe; it’s loaded with the desire to find one’s place away from the TV and constant digital noise: “I wanted to avoid it, live out in the forest / Play out of that orbit, go drifting out to sea”.
By the time you reach the tender, psych-pop closer of ‘Dominoes’ (“and if you’re not feeling ready, there’s always tomorrow”), you’re warmly nestled in the world that the album’s title evokes; there is hope amid the chaos. On ‘Better Oblivion Community Center’, two of our finest sing as one voice.