Better Oblivion Community Center’s self-titled album, released in 2019, sports refreshingly dynamic sounds and complicated lyrics that breathe new life with each relisten. The two-member band—Connor Oberst of “Bright Eyes” and Phoebe Bridgers, who gained fame as a solo artist as well as part of the increasingly popular supergroup “Boygenius,” formed with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus—pair devastating lyrics with swinging, gnarly sounds. This kind of juxtaposition leaves fans with a memorable and unique listening experience.
The album’s opening track, “Didn’t Know What I Was in For,” takes on contemplative and melancholic undertones as Bridgers and Oberst describe and dissect their unique perspectives on the world. The chorus is hauntingly sarcastic: “I didn’t know what I was in for / When I signed up for that run / There’s no way I’m curing cancer / But I’ll sweat it out / I feel so proud now for all the good I’ve done.” The track begins with simple, soft sounds, and graduates to intense background music at the chorus.
The fifth track on the album, “Exception to the Rule,” seems electronically mechanical and synchronized at first listen. Oberst and Bridgers sing in tandem, highlighting their polar opposite yet fluently intertwined voices. At the end of the first verse, sliding into
the chorus, the pair sing: “I came out here to check out / Get away from my house / Now I don’t leave this couch / Or turn off the TV.” The chorus, seemingly contemplating the widely used phrase “exception to the rule,” ends in unanswered questions: “Why don’t you want it / Why don’t you want it anymore?” The use of a question to end the chorus leaves listeners in a sort of trance as they struggle to pinpoint what “it” could refer to. It leaves listeners uneasy because unanswered questions seldom make us comfortable.
The album’s character isn’t solely derived from its musical elements. Oberst’s opening verse in “Sleepwalkin” is preceded by him saying, “Like, it’s, impossible to count / One, two, three, four,” an unexpected ad-lib that flows seamlessly into the song. “Sleepwalkin” is the album’s second track, taking an upbeat turn from “Didn’t Know
What I Was in For.” The lyrics oscillate between deadpan and abstract. Somehow, through the sound of their voices, melody or a combination of both, Oberst’s and Bridgers’ seemingly “matter of fact” statements invite contemplation. Declarative lyrics are often followed by abstract ones. Oberst’s opening lyrics read: “Drinking cold, black coffee / I shake and shake, still won’t get off me.” Bridgers’ verse, which arrives like the calm after a storm, has a similar structure. She sings, “You like beer and chocolate / I like setting off those bottle rockets / We can never compromise / But the fighting ‘til the death keeps us alive.” The pair released a second version of “Sleepwalkin,” titled “Sleepwalkin’ (Daydreamin’ Version),” which sports further musical variation.
Whether you need to dance or cry, Better Oblivion Community Center’s 2019 album has something for you. Their NPR Tiny Desk Concert, which showcases the raw talent of Bridgers and Oberst, can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1Yz-NyLV90.