This Week’s Model — Better Oblivion Community Center, “Dylan Thomas”

better oblivion
(image snagged from a Billboard video)

Maybe someday Phoebe Bridgers will appear on every record, or at least every record worth buying. In the last sixteen months, Bridgers released her solo debut, gave all the sad kids new treasures as one-third of boygenius, and now arrives arm-in-arm with Conor Oberst as Better Oblivion Community Center. In our pop cultural era presided over benevolently by Beyoncé, the way to announce a project like this is not through weeks and months of promotional preamble, but instead popping in into the marketplace full formed. I suppose someone out there might be excited by the surprise of worn-out nineties band releasing a whole batch of gimmicky covers in hopes of prolonging a strange spurt of revived commercial success. To my ears, Better Oblivion Community Center is a far better example of the unexpected joys that can come from an ambush album.

“Dylan Thomas,” the track that officially popped the cork on the new group, is a warm, wonderful melding of the adjacent sensibilities of Bridgers and Oberst. Catchy and sprightly, like a jamboree someone brought amps to, the song is informed by a defeated cynicism and yet — both musically and lyrically — driven by a forthright assurance that the inevitability of ill turns means just getting through it all is as viable an option as any. “I’m getting greedy with this private hell/ I’m crawling alone, but that’s just as well,” the duo sing, and it feels perfect. And I suspect it will be a long time before I freshly encounter a single lyric that I love as much as “That ghost is just a kid in a sheet.”

Oberst is prolific, too, and has been a frequent and generous collaborator throughout his career, so it may be iffy for me to emphasize the abundance of Bridgers’s creativity in celebrating this new music. But Oberst seems enlivened by her contributions, making “Dylan Thomas” come across as more of extension of his cohort’s recent run, presumably on the way to two or three more spontaneous projects bearing the Bridgers stamp before the year is up. That would be fine. Better Oblivion Community Center firmly establishes the truism the more Bridgers, the better.


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