It’s been an incredible few years for Phoebe Bridgers. In 2017, her debut album Stranger in the Alps topped a huge amount of year-end lists and has become a go-to for emotional 20-somethings everywhere. Last year she joined forces with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus to create boygenius, whose self-titled EP one of the most emotional, earnest EPs ever conceived.
She’s been going from strength to strength, but 2019 is definitely shaping up to be her year. Since December, mysterious advertisements for something called the “Better Oblivion Community Center” have been popping up in random places: while it wasn’t said aloud, people made the connection to Bridgers very quickly. All was revealed last week when the Better Oblivion Community Center (Bridgers’ new band with frequent collaborator Conor Oberst) made its debut on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. The entire album dropped by surprise following the performance.
I know we’re only a month into 2019, but I’m calling it now: Better Oblivion Community Center is the best album of the year. Possibly the decade.
The record bears all the hallmarks of Bridgers’ and Oberst’s previous work: deep, incisive lyrics that turn small, emotional moments into entire worlds. Musical arrangements blending everything from folk to punk to pop. An ambience that wraps itself around you like a warm blanket on a lonely night. But Bridgers and Oberst come together here to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. This album could never have come from only one of them and they’re the only two people on the planet who could have put it together. Tracks like “Exception to the Rule,” driven largely by the sounds of synthesizers, would never have found a home on either artists’ solo efforts but aren’t at all out of place here.
“Didn’t Know What I Was in For,” the opening track, is quiet and vulnerable, reminiscent of Bridgers’ tracks like “Scott Street” but with a more focused, energetic drive. The next track “Sleepwalkin’” continues keeps that atmosphere going with a beautiful, desperate plea to feel something. “Dylan Thomas” is an exceptional nod to the dark sense of humour Oberst and Bridgers share: an energetic track that combines a fun, almost Smiths-esque arrangement with tongue-in-cheek lyrics about “taking a shower at the Bates motel” among other things.
The chemistry between Bridgers and Oberst is electrifying. Combining their talents as songwriters has created something remarkably unique, but what makes Better Oblivion so revelatory is how well they perform together. Their voices are a match made in heaven; Bridgers’ serene, airy higher notes merge gracefully with Oberst’s deeper, earthy lower voice. Two voices as unique as these rarely blend together so well but this is a match made in heaven. The pairing is phenomenal throughout the album but at its best on the breezy (but surprisingly bleak) “My City.”
The most surprising song on the album is “Big Black Heart,” which from the soft, sultry delights of a faux-80s dreamscape to a roaring chorus of screamed vocals, distorted guitars and pure, unbridled heartbreak and agony. It’s a huge departure from the vulnerability of tracks like “Chesapeake” or the closing song “Dominos,” but it works perfectly with them to create a vast, complex and beautiful emotional landscape.
All in all, this album is utterly enchanting. Every now and then, an album comes around that completely changes your life; everything you thought you knew about yourself, about music, even about the world shifts in response to hearing it. Better Oblivion Community Center is this generation’s Ziggy Stardust or Abbey Road. It has had a monumental effect on me. My life can be cleanly divided between a time before Better Oblivion and a time after Better Oblivion, because I have fallen so deeply in love with it that I am a different person now and couldn’t possibly imagine living without it. This is one of the most astonishing musical projects of our time. You would do well to pay the Better Oblivion Community Center a visit; I guarantee you they have something to suit your needs.