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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. Bridgers is the rare artist with enough humor to deconstruct her own meteoric rise.
Repeatedly praised by publications like The New Yorker, The New York Times, GQ, Pitchfork, The Fader, The Los Angeles Times and countless others, Bridgers herself is more interested in discussing topics on Twitter, deadpanning meditations on the humiliating process of being a person, she presents a sweetly funny flipside to the strikingly sad songs she writes. Fittingly, Punisher is fascinated with, and driven by, that kind of impossible tension. Whether it's writing tweets or songs, Bridgers' singular talent lies in bringing fierce curiosity to slimy and painful things, interrogating them until they yield up answers that are beautiful and absurd, or faithfully reporting the reality that, sometimes, they are neither.
Bridgers pulls together a formidable crew of guests, including Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, Christian Lee Hutson and Conor Oberst as well as Nathaniel Walcott (of Bright Eyes), Nick Zinner (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Jenny Lee Lindberg (of Warpaint), Blake Mills and Jim Keltner as well as her longtime bandmates Marshall Vore (drums), Harrison Whitford (guitar), Emily Retsas (bass) and Nick White (keys). The album was mixed by Mike Mogis, who also mixed Bridgers' 2017 debut studio album, Stranger In The Alps.
On the album's epic, freewheeling closer, "I Know The End", Bridgers orchestrates wails and horns, drums and electric guitar into a sumptuous doomsday swirl, culminating in her own final whispered roar. This is Punisher in a nutshell: devastating elegance punctuated by a moment of deeply campy self-awareness.
Her voice is delicate and vulnerable, casting a spell on top of moody, sparsely arranged, ambient tunes. The title track is a dream-pop gem that recalls growing up in suburban L.A.; it could have been penned by an indie-pop Joan Didion, seeking meaning in the popular culture of a drugstore aisle. The haunting 'Halloween' muses on self-identity. 'Graceland Too' is an Americana-inflected, MDMA-inspired meditation on self-destructive impulses. The explosive psych-tinged closer, 'I Know the End,' considers growing up under the cloud of the apocalypse - the final notes are Bridgers gasping for breath. Life's big issues permeate Punisher, but take solace in being in the company of a fellow traveler.
Bridgers is a master of curating her innermost thoughts into clever, and at times devastating, one-liners, and Punisher is full of them. The songs are specific, sometimes incredibly specific (See: 'We fought about John Lennon/ Until I cried/ And then went to bed upset' on 'Moon Song'), and yet every song's meaning stands solid outside of its individual story. Punisher is so many things; it's funny, it's dark, it's dreamy and reflective, and yet remains rooted in Bridgers' experience as someone in her twenties with insight beyond her years. Punisher broke the curse of the sophomore slump and cemented Bridgers' place as the indie-rock poet for twentysomethings who continue to date people they don't actually like.
Her sophomore album Punisher cements what may be Phoebe Bridgers' most understated gift of all: her seemingly innate ability to capture the mundanity of modern sadness in song. Tucked in among the record's memorable melodies, clever arrangements and impressive guests are a steady stream of details that lend plainspoken perspective to Bridgers' emotional highs and (mostly) lows. These kinds of details ground her work in the same way shading makes a still life painting pop. They make them feel not just sad, but real.
Throughout, Punisher is a rich, roiling stunner.
Every track sparks an emotional charge, as her sharp songwriting spins tales of nautical-themed birthday parties ('Moon Song'), shedding crocodile tears in a car ('Savior Complex'), and feeling, well, nothing ('Chinese Satellite'). Only Bridgers would place a stunning folk song like 'Graceland Too' next to the epic Wizard of Oz tornado that is 'I Know the End,' but that kind of mad genius energy is her hallmark.
- Vinyl LP
- Gatefold jacket
- DVD Menu
- Garden Song
- Chinese Satellite
- Moon Song
- Savior Complex
- Graceland Too
- I Know The End