Phoebe Bridgers Punisher

Dead Oceans
17th June 2020

Format Info

Black Vinyl LP

Songs are messages, means of saying something, taking the at-times unmanageable depth of experience and saying it simply to another being. Big words, true, but the best songs feel like that and L.A. based songwriter Phoebe Bridgers has a whole truckload on Punisher. Her art takes in a wealth of songwriting tradition, yet there are so many gems of truth in each song a lot of these feelings feel like you’re feeling them for the first time.

Punisher is Bridgers’ second solo album following her 2017 debut and collaborations with Conor Oberst as Better Oblivion Community Center and with Lucy Dacus / Julien Baker in Boygenius. Each project has its own merits, but for these ears Punisher feels incisive and glitteringly truthful, her most developed and playful work to date. There’s a recognisable trope through out Punisher of taking every day objects or realities and flipping them to be these heavy symbols for something else. On the reserved guitar and bit-crushed noise samples of Garden Centre, Bridgers’ country-inflected vocal describes a self lost in reverie, phone screens, waking up to a bucolic reality that’s comforting but unsure. Flipping the guy-with-female-backing-singer trope in the chorus, it’s a beautiful song ridden with a delicate, ironical humour. Kyoto feels like pure 90s indie pop and it’s glorious for it, a Julianna Hatfield, Breeders-style chugger dressed in escalating harmonies and trumpets that breathe life into proceedings. The narrative is conversational, breezy, the thoughts of a 20 something excited and critical of the 21st Century.

Bridgers’ voice, of course, is stunning, gentle and breathy when it needs to be and able to flip on a dime to be a soaring instrument. Punisher is so awash with lightness dappled with darkness, or sad ballads like the title song that is infused with enough irreverent humour to soften the emotional blow. This double edged approach is employed everywhere on the record. Take Chinese Satellite, which feels like a Red House Painters song, Bridgers’ inflections sounding as melancholy as early Kozelek but switches it up half-way through, shooting down the drama with a killer twist.

Bridgers achievement here puts her easily in the same league as the great American songwriters. Hers is a skill that brings the great, troubadour songwriting tradition into this strange simulacra of a world that we seem to be trapped in for now.

Phoebe Bridgers doesn’t write love songs as much as songs about the impact love can have on our lives, personalities, and priorities. Punisher, her fourth release and second solo album, is concerned with that subject. To say she writes about heartbreak is to undersell her blue wisdom, to say she writes about pain erases all the strange joy her music emanates. The arrival of Punisher cements Phoebe Bridgers as one of the most clever, tender and prolific songwriters of our era.

Other Releases by Phoebe Bridgers

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