Bright Eyes Have Plans for 2020

The seminal indie rock band just launched an Instagram page.

Could I please have the attention of everyone who sported side bangs in 2008: Bright Eyes, the mid-aughts indie band who made devoted fans out of granola hipsters and emo kids alike, have resurfaced.

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Dear NPR Tiny Desk, Stop Having Repeat Performers

With all the love and respect in the world, NPR Tiny Desk, maybe consider using your massive platform to continue to uplift new artists as you have in the past, rather than inviting repeat performers.

I love the NPR Tiny Desk, and I love almost all the performers who have ever been featured on it.

I love the series' inclusivity and taste, and I appreciate the way the Tiny Desk Contest picks artists who deserve the major platform that the prize affords.

However, there's one thing that's been bothering me about the Tiny Desk. The show typically doesn't have repeat performers, but in the past few years, several bands have been invited on to perform more than once. Yesterday, Sharon Van Etten came on to perform three new songs, though she first performed in 2010. Wilco was invited to return in 2016. Julien Baker performed two shows, one in 2016 and then one in 2018, and then came back to perform with boygenius in 2019, alongside Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers—both of whom had also performed before.

boygenius: NPR Music Tiny Desk

Even though I am a devoted fan of most these artists and think that boygenius is the future of rock music, the fact that these artists were invited to perform twice rubs me the wrong way, which makes me wonder how people who are not fans of these artists feel. All these repeats seem to contradict the intent of the show, which has always seemed to be about getting past layers of artifice and tapping into the true emotions at the core of a wide variety of music.

This annoyance isn't really directed at the Tiny Desk or the repeat performers, of course. One series certainly can't be held responsible for the corruption at the heart of the corporatized music industry or for breaking out of the media's elitist echo chambers.

Maybe the annoyance is rooted in the fact that so many artists dedicate their lives to music and yet never get the chance to be featured on a platform like the Tiny Desk. I have so many friends who have submitted wonderful videos to the Tiny Desk competition, and I've watched hundreds more submissions by artists who truly deserve recognition from NPR and other music outlets, yet receive little to none, especially if they don't have the cash or luck granted to others.

Maybe I'm annoyed because, in general, music is such an extraordinarily random crapshoot of a profession, and the truth is that most talented and hardworking musicians I know are sleeping on benches in the parks of New York.

As a music and culture writer, I'm also aware that I've absolutely fallen prey to the temptation to write repeatedly about artists and celebrities I know and love instead of prioritizing new and diverse voices. In that sense, I do understand Bob Boilen's desire to have his old favorites back in his office.

Maybe, Bob, both you and I can try to work on this. We can listen to Go Home by Julien Baker in private as many times as we want, while knowing that as music writers and content curators, we have the power to choose what stories and voices to elevate, and we have to constantly interrogate those choices and subconscious biases that may inform them. On the other hand, tokenization is never the answer, and nothing replaces having more diverse voices in positions of power in the first place.

Music Reviews

Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers Want You to Join Their Cult

A surprise new album by folk-rock duo Better Oblivion Community Center presents images of a fractured, damaged world, with hints of hope and religious iconography thrown around for kicks.

Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers Better Oblivion Community - Billboard


"My telephone doesn't have a camera," begins the first track of Better Oblivion Community Center, the surprise album released this week by Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst.

"But if it did I'd take a picture / of the man on the off ramp / holding up the sign that's asking me for help."

Thus begins an album that's as much about not seeing and not feeling as it is about seeing and feeling too much. That first song, Didn't Know What I Was In For, is a spiraling traipse through a world saturated with news reports about unimaginable tragedies ("got my arms strapped in a straightjacket / so I couldn't save those TV refugees" sing Bridgers and Oberst later in the song). Throughout its ten tracks, the album finds two of folk's modern saints grappling with apathy in the face of a burning world.

Or maybe it's not that serious at all. Better Oblivion Community Center seems designed to invite speculation while also laughing at how intensely it's being scrutinized. That's characteristic of Bridgers, whose melancholic tunes are often cut with biting wit.

At its heart, Better Oblivion revolves around the question of whether or not music or anything we do matters at all, but its frequently upbeat, jangly indie-rock stylings give its hefty subject matter a sense of rhythm and motion. "I wanted to talk about how stupid music is," Bridgers told Rolling Stone of the idea that inspired Didn't Know What I Was In For and ultimately the rest of the album. "I wanted to talk about how awesome music is, and how depressing it is, and why we all make music if it doesn't last forever."

Bridgers, the 24-year-old breakout indie star whose album Stranger in the Alps was released in 2017, met Oberst—the 38-year-old Bright Eyes and Mystic Valley Band frontman—when opening for him on tour, but she'd known about his music long before harmonizing to Lua onstage. She started listening to Oberst in eighth grade, walking around her middle school hallways with Bright Eyes lyrics written on her Converse.

Flash forward a decade or so, and Better Oblivion Community Center was born out of haphazard songwriting sessions in LA. "I'd never had the experience of writing a full record with another songwriter like this," Obersttold Rolling Stone. "The whole experience was just what the doctor ordered for me to get excited about music again." Oberst, long a central player in the sad-folk scene, seems to have found a kindred spirit in his friendship with Bridgers. They wrote most of the album together, sometimes even forgetting who wrote what.

The duo followed the album's surprise release with a video for "Dylan Thomas." Directed by Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast, it's a surreal, cult-inspired dreamscape that features a blindfolded Bridgers and Oberst, towering angels, shadowy figures wearing VR-masks, and a strategically placed Juul at the video's climax. It seems to invite speculation, both luxuriating in its theatricality and also possibly critiquing mass media's cult of personality.

Better Oblivion Community Center - Dylan

A lot of the album's content verges on cultural critique, while at the same time remaining vague enough to stay universal. "All this freedom freaks me out," drones Oberst on "My City," a line that could refer to America's twisted idea of freedom or his inability to chill.

Perhaps some of this vagueness is intentional, part of the album's brand. Before the release, the duo shared a variety of strange, cult-like promotional materials, including a telephone number leading to an odd message and a bus station advertisement bearing the duo's moniker and advertising a "free human empathy screening." Their debut performance on Colbert featured occult symbols and more ads promising services like "Sacred Crystal Implanting and Removal."

So what is the Better Oblivion Community Center, exactly? A metaphor, certainly—for solidarity amidst the storm of the modern world? A cult promising transit to an alternate dimension? An indie-folk duo playing on the Internet's tendency to overanalyze and cling to any entity that promises deliverance?

"At this moment in time everyone is feeling a little impending doom, like oblivion is just around the corner," Oberst explained to NME. "But the idea of the community center means that you're not alone in it. We're all going through this moment in time together, so maybe it's not all doom and gloom in there. Maybe there's some hopefulness in that community concept."

In this era of looming disaster, it's tempting to seek oblivion via any available avenue—but there's also the pressure to open our eyes to the weight of our shared responsibility as human beings. The intense friction that stems from the convergence of these two forces seems to bubble over into Bridgers and Oberst's frenetic compositions. There's a push-pull between desires for rebirth and fear of nothingness, a desperate hope that there's more to existence than what we can see and a suspicion that the angels down the avenue might just be sheets tossed by the wind.

It seems that, regardless, it'll be easier if we face our fate—be it evolution or end times—together. BOCC is heading out on tour in March, and their shows promise to be the ideal venues in which to bond with like-minded seekers of better oblivion, if only for the night.

Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City.

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WTWD? | Questions on Season Eight: Episode 9

The Death of Carl Grimes

Photo by Gene Page/AMC

How can it be possible for The Walking Dead to continue its story without Carl? Fans are upset and confused as to how a character that works symbiotically with Rick's can be axed without collapsing a fundamental premise of the show: a father motivated to protect his children. While Rick, of course, still has his adopted daughter as well as an entire adopted family now to push him forward, how will Carl's death change Rick? That question may be answered in understanding the legacy that Carl has left behind. There is also something to be said about the turning of generations and the clashing of the old and the new. Though audiences may have viewed this returning episode as a bit drawn out and despairing, there is meaning, even beauty, in Carl's death.

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