New Albums for January 2019: Better Oblivion Community Center

Well it’s a new year and we already have a nice batch of cool new records. This year I’m going to work on staying on top of new releases each week and listen to more new music than I have since 2003. That’s the goal. I won’t post super long write ups because the point here is just to flag up some good stuff for your consideration.

First up is:

Better Oblivion Community Center, s/t

A two-hander between the young and super talented Phoebe Bridgers (of boygenuis) and Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes). This is an efficient and across the board excellent set of songs. The duo harmonizes beautifully with Bridgers taking the lead on more than the half the songs. It has Americana tinges and fits nicely in Oberst’s canon, however also at times sounds more like the experimental indie rock on a band like The Walkmen (See “Exception to the Rule”). I miss the Walkmen.

The lyrics are excellent, raw, personal. The band sets the tone on the first song, “Didn’t Know What I Was In For” where we have this tongue in cheek verse:

I didn’t know what I was in for
When I signed up for that run
There’s no way I’m curing cancer
But I’ll sweat it out
I feel so proud now for all the good I’ve done

Followed by a quick retraction:

I didn’t know what I was in for
When I laid out in the sun
We get burned for being honest
I’ve really never done anything, for anyone

On the uptempo “Dylan Thomas” the band seems to nod to the angst-filled zeitgeist like a lot of art these days, but in a refracted, allusive, and clever way:

These cats are scared and feral
The flag pins on their lapels
The truth is anybody’s guess
These talking heads are saying
“The king is only playing a game of four dimensional chess
If it’s advertised, we’ll try it
And buy some peace and quiet
And shut up at the silent retreat
They say you’ve gotta fake it
At least until you make it
That ghost is just a kid in a sheet

It’s every bit as good as it sounds.

This record features plenty drinking, heartache, self-loathing, and snark–in other words all of the great themes of rock ‘n roll and there isn’t a down song in the bunch.

RIYL: Bright Eyes, Phoebe Bridges, Dawes, The Walkmen.
Start With: Didn’t Know What I Was In For, Dylan Thomas, Dominos.

Crushes and Crushing with Bad Moves and Swearin’

She said what do you do
I said get specific
In the long run I grow old
Elliot Murphy

What am I doing? Get specific. OK, basically I’m on east coast of the United States seeing bands. I am connecting with my roots and connecting with my heart. I love live music; I love live music fans; I love the whole scene. So that’s what’s going on.

This piece is about two young bands making waves this year. First is Bad Moves, who I saw open for The Hold Steady last weekend at the Brooklyn Bowl. Their record is Tell No One (2018, Don Giovanni). Second is Swearin’ who a music geek introduced to me as a top five record of the year. Their record is Fall Into the Sun. (Swearin’ is not actually a new band, just new to me. Their 2018 release is the first in five years.) For some reason listening to both bands brings to mind Dirty on Purpose. Their best record is Hallelujah Sirens (2006, North Street Records, for some reason not on Spotify). What happens to a band like Dirty on Purpose? Does anyone remember them? I do–they are way underrated. Huge props go out to Dirty on Purpose and here’s “No Radio” for you (super low-rent video btw!):

Let’s play a game that we live in a world where a great record by a band like Bad Moves or Swearin’ would produce radio hits. I want to live in that world. So the first single from Fall Into the Sun, and perhaps the standout track on either album we are looking at, is Swearin’s “Big Change”. Check this out:

The best years of our lives
Were spent in some stranger’s basement
Medley made of empty cans and ex’s
And that radical romantic conversation
And how we are like mutants
Who found each other by chance through rock n roll music
Clenched fist, eyes wild
Scream over the records, you artfully complied
While I put my bad faith into practice
Sit at home on Saturday night
Ease into my false sense of superiority
No art degree, no conservatory
Just Katie and me
And whatever we are drinking
To diminish our diplomacy
If you can’t appreciate the art
Appreciate the air conditioning

That’s high-level awesome. “No art degree, no conservatory/ Just Katie and me”–“who’s better than us” is the refrain of DiLillo’s Underworld. If they can do it, why not us? Fuck ’em, and if you don’t that it, appreciate the air conditioning. That’s what attitude looks like kids, take notes.

So “Big Change” is my single from Fall Into the Sun. Any record worth it’s salt will have at least two singles; three is a bonus. And, we’ll do a “sneaky favorite.” I’m all about sneaky favorites, on all levels.

For Swearin’s second single I’ll go with “Grow into a Ghost.” It opens with a chugging guitar riff with an almost Krautrock drum line. The song is a perfect 3:10–in and out. Do you know anything about lost love? Swearin’ does–here’s verse 2:

I write you ceaselessly and abstracted
I hang our with old friends
And they unknowingly remind me
Of who I was before we met
You were somewhere out in the desert
You frame the natural light perfectly
Will you come back soon and
Let me love you completely

and the chorus: “I watch you/ I watch you grow into a ghost.”

I’ll save the sneaky favorite for later.

Bad Moves I gotta say rocked my world. First, the star of the band (and I know they are a collective, I get it, but my world is my world baby) is Katie Park.

Before the show Katie was at the merch table selling…magic eye! Magic eye! That she made by hand. And what did it say? The magic eye said “Bad Moves.” Obviously. 20 minutes later she and the band were crushing it. It’s only a snippet, but check this out:

The single here is pretty easy. It’s “Crushed Out.” The band released “Spirit FM” as the single, which is also excellent. But for me, “Crushed Out” is the single. Maybe “Spirit FM” is more immediately catchy? Possible. So maybe it is the single. But “Crushed Out” has more lasting power in my opinion. I’ll bow to the band and take “Spirit FM” as single two. “Crushed Out” is about exactly what it sounds like. It has a basically perfect power pop structure with a killer hook, a classic bridge, and a theme at once super obvious and super deep–the power of a crush.

It was a strange infatuation
I couldn’t place it at the time
But now it seems as if my mind
Was all stopped up with you
I had no sense of aspiration
I didn’t know, I guess it’s fine
But now it seems so obvious
Did it seem so obvious?
Through all my fits of desperation
Sharing looks and passing notes
What did you make of what I wrote?
What could I ask of you?
The weeks of strained communication
Could you read between the lines
Or was it just so obvious?
It was a strange infatuation
I didn’t have the words to say yet, to be fair
Crushing out that way
It would be years before I’d face it
But it was just so obvious

Baby, if you are crush-prone that power never goes away. Bad Moves knows this–it’s kind of what the record is about. Crushing out that way can be pretty obvious–do you think I’m, crushing out on Katie at all? Nah, this is just a piece of music appreciation.

Read more