Has it really been 17 years since Conor Oberst dropped his breakthrough effort, Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, a sprawling, melody-infested ride through the mind of a young man traversing the minefield of adult relationships for the first time? Released under the moniker Bright Eyes via his hometown Omaha, Nebraska label Saddle Creek (co-founded by his older brother Justin), the 73-minute opus announced the arrival of an ambitious singer/songwriter whose dense lyrical style and warbling, emotion-packed vocals yielded polarizing reactions.
Bright Eyes would go on to release five more albums through 2011, all of which reveled in Oberst’s love of off-kilter Folk Rock with touches of everything from R.E.M and Neutral Milk Hotel to Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Then there are his various other projects, including the punky Desaparecidos, the supergroup Monsters of Folk and a series of solo records (the most recent being 2017’s Salutations) that don’t stray far from his Bright Eyes roots.
Oberst’s latest endeavor is called Better Oblivion Community Center, a collaboration with singer/songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, whose penchant for melancholy (and melody) is nearly as strong as her mentor’s (she has called Bright Eyes’ 2005 effort I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning her all-time favorite album). The duo’s self-titled debut features 10 evocative songs that range from the catchy Pop Rock of “Dylan Thomas” to “Didn’t Know What I Was in For,” an atmospheric slow-burner that deftly incorporates the pair’s affecting, intertwining vocals.
“I’ve always had an affinity for ‘sad sack’ music over the years,’ ” Oberst said in a recent interview with The Skinny. “I think we’re all beginning to feel left alone in the world right now. Sometimes it can be helpful hearing someone else express emotions that you are carrying around inside yourself but might not have the right words to articulate. For me, growing up, listening to sad records, it was like, ‘Wow, there’s someone else out there who feels these things too.’ It’s a function of trying to connect with someone and not feel so out to sea.”
After a run of BOCC dates earlier this year (and more coming up next month), Oberst headlines the Taft Theatre this Thursday, July 27, performing solo with special guest Joanna Sternberg. Tickets are $33. Music begins at 8 p.m.