Categories
Albums

Best albums of 2019: #1 Better Oblivion Community Center “Better Oblivion Community Center”

Back in 2017, Phoebe Bridgers’ debut album, “Stranger in the alps”, just eked its way into my top ten albums for the year. Since then, however, the album has grown in my esteem and if I had to redo the list, it might find its way a few spots higher. Bridgers, herself, has also become a bigger name, her indie cred seemingly as impervious as her keen ability to write songs and to turn any project she has a hand in to gold. Last year, for instance, she formed a supergroup of sorts with two other indie ‘it’ ladies, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, and released a six song EP under the name “boygenius”. She also seemed to be popping up quite regularly in my social media feeds and in news items on the music sites I frequent with other one-off collaborations, live performances or otherwise. Then, out of nowhere, this past January saw her announce a project with Conor Oberst (!) and the immediate, digital release of the eponymously named “Better Oblivion Community Center”.

To be honest, Oberst has never been a favourite of mine, though I have tried many times, sampling his solo work under his own name or the Bright Eyes moniker, and even his early punk band Desaparecidos. Yet when I gave this album a go, it sounded like his voice had found a home next to Bridgers’, and I immediately set myself to work trying to find a copy of it on vinyl. It wasn’t an easy task. With the usual pressing woes and delays and the seemingly incredible demand for it, the record wasn’t easily found. But that only made my success in finally obtaining it that much more sweet. Since then, it’s quite likely the new wax that has frequented my platter the most this year.

“Better Oblivion Community Center” is more than two like minded indie folk singer/songwriters working together. Despite their differences in backgrounds, experiences, and age, their work on this album suggests they are bringing the best out in each other, stretching each out of their collective comfort zones. Backed by usual collaborating musicians from both camps, along with contributions by members of Dawes and Yeah Yeahs Yeahs, Bridgers and Oberst have produced a ten song collection that sometimes does but doesn’t always jive with either of their past works. Yet all of it is great.

Have a listen to my three picks for you below and give me your thoughts.


“Service road”: Oberst starts this one off, singing solo over an introverted acoustic strum. “You should really call your brother. Someone put up a picture where he can’t stand.” This leads credence to the theory that it was inspired by his brother, who basically drank himself to death. But Oberst isn’t alone here. Bridgers joins him after the first verse and like you’ll find elsewhere on the album, their voices are stunning together. They sing as one, much like they wrote all the songs, and in this way, they are stronger, giving hope to the universal grief. And man, when Bridgers sings “who are you” at the choruses, it sends shivers.

“Didn’t know what I was in for”: Track one on the album was also the first one written for the project. Bridgers sings the first two verses of the song, it sounding very much like something off her solo album, struggling with herself and everything she sees around her. “My telephone, it doesn’t have a camera. If it did I’d take a picture of myself. If it did I’d take a picture of the water and the man on the offramp, holding up the sign that’s asking me for help.” And again, it all changes when, this time, Oberst joins her, and you realize it’s going to be very different this time around. The acoustic that is so prevalent at the beginning seems to take a backseat to the highly affected guitar effects that had threatened to be mainly decoration, the drums kick in and there’s momentary bliss. Yeah, it all seems so hopeless again at the end but there is something so thrilling in it all.

“Dylan Thomas”: The project’s second single and first to be released off the record also happened to be the final one written for it. By both accounts, it came the easiest. Named for a Welsh poet by whom there was a book in the house the album was recorded, the song is a catchy kick at the state of politics. Indeed, it is much like the showboating politicians they are raking, using shiny confetti to thinly obscure their message. It’s a jangly rocker. It’s a fun song to bop to. It’s Oberst and Bridgers singing together as they do through most of the album, a two-pronged assault, each highlighting the other’s text in bright yellow. In the end, it’s about getting all too comfortable with the uncomfortable. “I’m getting used to these dizzy spells. I’m taking a shower at the Bates Motel. I’m getting greedy with this private hell. I’ll go it alone, but that’s just as well.” …And with that, happy new year folks!


In case you missed them, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Chromatics “Closer to grey”
9. Elva “Winter sun”
8. The Twilight Sad “It won/t be like this all the time”
7. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Ghosteen”
6. The Soft Calvary “The Soft Calvary”
5. Orville Peck “Pony”
4. Ride “This is not a safe place”
3. Tallies “Tallies”
2. The National “I am easy to find”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Categories
Vinyl

Vinyl love: The Postal Service “Give up”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: The Postal Service
Album Title: Give up
Year released: 2003
Year reissued: 2013
Details: 10th anniversary deluxe edition, Remastered, 3 x LP, Triple gatefold, 8-page booklet

The skinny: The one and only collaboration between Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello (aka DNTEL) received the 10th anniversary reissue treatment and I was all over it. It was 10 clean and crisp pop gems that seamlessly blended indie pop and electronic, though this release included extra b-sides, remixes, and even a brand new song.

Standout track: “Such great heights”

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2010: #1 Broken Bells “The high road”

<< #2

After almost a full year, we’ve finally come to the number one song on this best of 2010 list. So many great songs but this single off the self-titled, debut album by Broken Bells wins it all for me hands down.

I remember first hearing about the Brian Burton and James Mercer collaboration and thinking (whether rightly or wrongly) that this was all made possible by another collaboration six years prior by Jimmy Taborello and Ben Gibbard, called The Postal Service. Still, when I first gave “Broken Bells” a spin and first heard the opening seconds of the opening song, this one, I was hooked. The album then spent a lot of time with me after that, keeping me company with its hooks and multi-faceted magic.

Apparently, the seeds were sown for this collaboration when The Shins’ frontman, James Mercer met producer/musician/wizard, Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) at a music festival in 2004 and they got to talking and discovered each other’s mutual respect. They didn’t actually get around to working together for another four years and the first album came a couple of years after that. By this time, Burton had already been riding a wave of successes, such as his collaboration with Cee-Lo Green as Gnarls Barkley and the production of albums by Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, Beck, and The Black Keys. Indeed, he was becoming like a musical Midas. Mercer, for his part, had put his own band, The Shins, on hiatus, citing fatigue after three relatively successful albums and achieving a sort of cult status. Working together, the two members of Broken Bells brought their own styles with them to the workshop and seemingly reinvigorated each other, creating beautiful, otherworldly music in the process.

“The high road” is hipster funk for martians. It opens up with synths that feel like free jazz random notes played on an underwater harpsichord, filtered through a C64’s speakers. Then, that laidback beat kicks in and you can just imagine Burton and Mercer coolly walking down a back alley with graffiti on the walls, decked out in bandannas and jean jackets with the collars turned up. Mercer’s vocals here are unlike anything he had previously done with The Shins, which I suppose is the point, affecting a devil may care attitude, almost to the point of irony. The whole thing is so much fun, right down to the backing vocals that invite you in to be part of the gang. That’s right. Step right up and join the choir that is the human race.

Cheers folks and thanks as always for reading.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.