On the Song “Dylan Thomas” and Comments on Ryhme

A few days ago I posted a brief review of the new record from Better Oblivion Community Center in which I wrote a little bit about the song “Dylan Thomas” from their record. In the 50 something hours since then I’ve listened to the song about 100 times, literally, which is a lot. So I thought I might have something more to say about it.

For the uninitiated (which is probably everyone reading this–after I posted my review a friend texted me a funny article from The Onion entitled “Study: No Two People Have Listened To Same Band Since 2003”), Better Oblivion Community Center is Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers. “Dylan Thomas” is the single, or at least the song they just played on Jimmy Kimmel. You still won’t know them.

The reason I want to write a little more about the song is it has a killer structure. The structure is based around a neat rhyme scheme with fabulous use of “near rhymes” and also around a see-saw in the verses between fairly pointed political commentary and apolitical hedonism. As with all interpretation, I can’t be sure that what I hear was intended, but what the hell–communication is what the listener does after all.

Now, a lot of songs, most, rhyme. That’s obvious. But not too many songs really hold up on the page as well, as poetry. I think “Dylan Thomas” does and I’d like to explore why.

Verse I:

It was quite early one morning
Hit me without warning
I went to hear the general speak
I was standing for the anthem
Banners all around him
Confetti made it hard to see

So the first verse clearly alludes to our political moment–it appears politically engaged to some extent. The reference to “the general” is redolent of South American politics (I am reminded of the fabulous Drugstore song “El President”). The rhyme scheme is tricky–it’s AABCC(D), where (d) “see” almost rhymes with “speak” in the delivery although the words don’t actually rhyme, instead being only vaguely alliterative.

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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.