Music Reviews

Phoebe Bridgers Punisher

(Dead Oceans) Rating - 7/10

Within every giant cycle of new music, there’s always a notable album that captures the feeling of wanting to just curl up in bed all day, and it’s usually easy to miss in all of the chaos. The most recent album of this type that springs to mind is Wilco’s late-career Ode to Joy, which played in the background of my October 2019, where I spent as much time as possible laying on the couch and doing nothing. There’s going to have to be a few days like that this summer, and I’m sure that they’ll be soundtracked by Phoebe Bridgers’ lovely sophomore LP, Punisher. Opposed to the trend, this album seems like it’ll be a little bit harder to miss, considering that Bridgers is an excellent songwriter in a classic way and with perfect attention to real-world details in her lyrics. It also helps that her latest record is her most unified project so far.

Ever since her 2017 debut album, Stranger in the Alps, Bridgers has been on a hot streak of collaborative projects. From the charming Conor Oberst collaboration Better Oblivion Community Center to her band Boygenius (whose 2018 self-titled EP had a handful of the year’s best songs), each project felt like a promising step forward for one of the most exciting up-and-coming singer/songwriters around. Considering Bridgers’ already prolific discography, it’s about time we got a sophomore record from just her. Punisher has been marinating for a while, and the growth is immediately noticeable. On the haunting Halloween, she crafts some of the most unforgettable images of her career with darkly funny lines about living near a hospital. With percussive guitars, pittering drums, and background vocals from bandmate Oberst, the song is the darkest the album gets.

That’s not at all to say the album lightens up though. Even Punisher's biggest moments are offset by Bridgers’ typically memorable and unforgiving lyrics. Without ruining the wonderfully cultivated mood, lead single Kyoto is an energetic lament with a beautiful chorus that’s backed by theatrical horns and catchy guitars. The album’s best song, I See You, explodes with shimming drums and wailing synths. Originally titled ICU, but changed due to COVID-19, it’s a perfect breakup song that illustrates the exhausting motion of getting past feeling angry. With blunt and hilarious lines about hating your ex’s mom, and an infectious instrumental refrain that comes right after the chorus, it’s one of the great songs of the year. The steadier Savior Complex has a similar sentiment, matching the song’s lyrical apathy with sweet acoustic guitars and a brief fiddle solo from Bon Iver’s Rob Moose. By the time it’s over, you realize that the album perfectly shows that depressing, stuck-in-one-place feeling. Over the past few years, it may have seemed like Bridgers was a team player, but on Punisher, she reannounces herself as a solo songwriter reaching her peak.