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B+ Better Oblivion Community Center

Better Oblivion Community Center

Dead Oceans

Singer-songwriters Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers have been navigating the dark corners of their own minds, but now come together as Better Oblivion Community Center. Pondering your own capacity for good, missing someone so much you want to dig them up from their grave, questioning what lies beyond death -- "If we're going somewhere I'm ready/If it's just dirt I'm not" -- these are the subjects Oberst and Bridgers explore.

The two are poets, lyrically revealing even their darkest thoughts. Oberst's songwriting has allowed him to stand out in his solo career and with his early work in indie rock band Bright Eyes. Bridgers released her debut Stranger in the Alps in 2017 and collaborated with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus in the critically acclaimed group boygenius in 2018.

Bridgers and Oberst's burning imagery and salient pain is harrowing at times, but succeeds at reminding listeners that internal turmoil can be relatable.

The album opens with "Didn't Know What I Was in For," relying heavily on the lyrics and distinctive vocals of Oberst and Bridgers to carry the track's weight. "Service Road," where the layering of Bridgers' tender vocals over the strained, emotional sound of Oberst's voice give the song a haunting quality.

A synthesizer creates an ethereal layer on "Chesapeake," where Oberst and Bridgers again showcase striking harmonization. "Forest Lawn," named after the Los Angeles cemetery, is ambiguous (is the one missing deceased or out of touch?) and has a folk music quality.

Beautiful in their melancholy, Bridgers and Oberst work as a grand duo on this powerful album.

Hot tracks: "Didn't Know What I Was in For," "Forest Lawn," "Service Road"

-- RAGAN CLARK

The Associated Press

D Dave Keuning

Prismism

Thirty Tigers

The Killers' founding member and guitarist Dave Keuning shows off some very different sides of his music on a new solo album. The question is who besides Keuning really wants to hear them.

Prismism is too much and too little: 14 tracks with all the instruments -- aside from some drum, keyboard and guitar parts -- played by Keuning.

The album was written and recorded by Keuning in his San Diego home studio. It often sounds like a guy messing around with instruments to see what sounds cool. What's cool to Keuning apparently is 1980 synth pop.

Thick swaths of synthesizer try to keep this record afloat but too often sound tinny, like those old, cheap Casio keyboard kids played on in the '80s. Some of the highlights include The Cars-like "Boat Accident" and the hard-charging "I Ruined You." But so much else -- like the fraudulent "Broken Clocks" and the non-nourishing "Gimme Your Heart" -- is the sound of someone just treading water after an initial riff idea.

Keuning's lyrics are full of angst and alienation, and his gloomy voice can grate over prolonged exposure, continually exposed for its narrowness. In the title song, he sings completely in a computer fog, a self-indulgent mess of a tune which album producer Brandon Darner evidently did not work hard enough to stop.

There may be some popular interest in the new album since it comes off the Killers' masterful 2017 album, Wonderful Wonderful, but not many of the tunes from Prismism would make it on a Killers' album. In fact, not many will make it to a second listen.

Hot tracks: "Boat Accident," "I Ruined You"

-- MARK KENNEDY

The Associated Press

SINGLES

• The Cranberries, "All Over Now"

There's no avoiding it: Dolores O'Riordan's death a year ago haunts "All Over Now," the first song from an album -- In the End, due April 26 -- that the band completed from demo recordings by O'Riordan and Noel Hogan. In the first verse she sings, "Do you remember, remember the night/at a hotel in London." It turns out to be a song about seeing a woman trying to pretend she's not a domestic-violence victim yet not getting involved. Guitars buzz in minor chords over a choppy beat, while O'Riordan's voice -- the demo included vocal harmonies -- holds stoic regret. Her death multiplies the sadness of the chorus: "It's all over now."

-- JON PARELES

The New York Times

• The Killers, "Land of the Free"

Echoing the keyboard chords of Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown," the Killers' "Land of the Free" is a compendium of problems -- mass incarceration, immigration, racism, gun control -- heading into a gospelly chorus. The video clip, centered on news footage, is by Spike Lee; the Killers' willingness to face a social-media backlash is as significant as the song.

-- JON PARELES

The New York Times

• Snarky Puppy, "Xavi"

Snarky Puppy might be today's most popular band whose audience wouldn't be fazed by a nearly 10-minute-long lead single with no words. "Xavi" is the first thing we're hearing from Immigrance, a forthcoming album from this large ensemble of virtuoso music nerds and studio hotshots. Crunchy guitar slices out a truncated phrase in conversation with an insistent snare drum, and flutes and trumpets drape a humid cloud cover overhead.

The tune's head-nodding six-beat rhythm is based around a North African antique chaabi groove, which Snarky's bassist and leader, Michael League, learned from Gnawa musicians while performing in Morocco last year. It accords with Immigrance's overall bent, which considers the role of migration and exchange in shaping our world.

-- GIOVANNI

RUSSONELLO

The New York Times

Better Oblivion Community Center
Dave Keun "Prismism"
The Cranberries, “All Over Now”
Snarky Puppy, “Xavi”

Style on 02/05/2019

Print Headline: Bridgers, Oberst go dark with Better Oblivion

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