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Track Review: Better Oblivion Community Center ‘Dylan Thomas’

A songwriting chameleon does it again.

Curt Tagtmeier

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“Dylan Thomas” by Better Oblivion Community Center is a new track on this duo’s self-titled album. Better Oblivion Community Center is a new project featuring Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers. Oberst is the former front man for Bright Eyes among his many musical projects. The Omaha native released his first album at the age of 13. The songwriter would later start Saddle Creek Records in 2001. Bridgers is a musician who released her first album in 2016 via Ryan Adams and his Pax-Am label. She is one of the women that has been interviewed over the recent Ryan Adams controversy that has filled the headlines. She graduated from the Los Angeles High School for the Arts, majoring in vocal jazz.

The song has all the hallmarks of an Oberst-penned track, which includes painful introspective lyrics, catchy guitar riffs, and a quick tempo that fits more appropriately in some hip-hop songs.

Upon a few listens there is one unmistakable distinction that makes this song special. The most obvious quality that makes this unique in Oberst’s catalog is the presence of Phoebe Bridgers, who has an outstanding voice, which brings a certain freshness to a song that does not sound like the same Oberst we have heard over the past 15 years.

The album takes on the same style as his previous effort, Salutations. “Dylan Thomas” could have been a b-side to the track, “Till St. Dymphas Kicks Us Out.”

The album was a second release after Ruminations, which was an interesting move by Oberst. It took all the same songs from Ruminations, but added a band, rather than the initial acoustic release that was Ruminations. This was a very interesting move to have the same album presented with and without a backing band. This changed the way in which the listener perceived the songs. Other artists do so on a couple of tracks with an album, but never the entire album.

This is Conor Oberst continuing to push boundaries on what the listener expects from him. The chorus of “Dylan Thomas,” referring to dying on the floor like the poet did is an interesting allusion that shows him once again keeping the listener on their toes.

“So sick of being honest/I’ll die like Dylan Thomas/A seizure on the barroom floor”

The famous poet passed at the hospital, not actually drinking himself to death. The lyric “so sick of being honest” now makes total sense.

Oberst’s songs will definitely make you think and often his lyrics many times take center stage. Yet, let us not forget, Conor writes outstanding guitar riffs throughout his entire catalog, and this song is no different. Too often he is categorized too quickly to an acoustic, folk genre. Yet, this songwriting chameleon really knows how to put together an excellent rock song.

Yet, saying all of that, I am not sure he is the first musician that I would want to spend time with getting a drink at the local bar. That might be a bummer. His entire catalog can be a bit depressing in its lyrical themes as this song can attest. I’m not so sure that talking about having a seizure on the tavern floor would be a good toast on karaoke night. 

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

Curt Tagtmeier is a writer and librarian hailing from Chicago, Illinois. He has a Master’s degree in history and library science. He is currently writing a music series entitled Chances Are Music Is All I Got, which began in May 2017 available on Amazon. The series aims to review 100 live premium concerts by May 2019. Mr. Tagtmeier is currently on 80 shows so far. You can follow this journey on Instagram @chancethebook11 and his Tumblr blog, How Am I Not In The Strokes Yet. When he isn’t writing or listening to great music, Curt is most likely sleeping.

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