Album Review: Punisher // Phoebe Bridgers

If 2017’s Stranger in the Alps elevated Phoebe Bridgers to stardom, Punisher should launch her into the stratosphere.

The LA singer-songwriter’s sophomore album is ethereal, nostalgic and essentially, sad. This is much of what we have come to expect from the endlessly talented Phoebe Bridgers. But more than just 11 songs of angst and anxiety;, it simultaneously feels like ugly crying while home alone and also falling head-over-heels, blindly in love. It i’s quite a talent to quite evoke the full range of emotions from a listener, but by only album number two, she has managed to perfect the art already.

‘DVD Menu’ appropriately introduces the album, with the purely instrumental track still managing to capture Punisher’s melancholy and contemplative character. The only downfall is that this song is too short: at 1 minute and 9 seconds, it feels that we’ve been deprived of the full force of this James Bond-esque , haunting melody. 

“The doctor put her hands over my liver, and she told me my resentment’s getting smaller” warbles the unforgettable ‘Garden Song’ before leading into the seemingly antithetical ‘Kyoto’. Set to an upbeat tune, where she could be talking about the best day of her life, Bridgers sings in the chorus: “I’m gonna kill you if you don’t beat me to it.” The second single was supposed to be a ballad about imposter syndrome while on tour in Japan, but “I was so sick of recording slow songs, it turned into this,” Bridgers said in a statement. 

One highlight, a little more understated than its neighbours, is ‘Saviour Complex’. You will never hear “show me yours and I’ll show you mine” sound so damn sad. I can already hear the post-COVID audiences crying out the lamenting hook of ‘ICU’/’I See You’. 

You could quote any line from any song on Punisher and it be a standalone masterpiece, but “you called me from a payphone… they still got payphones” is one of many strokes of genius peppered through the 11-track record. Bridgers’ arresting lyrics are a largely timeless, transcending generational differences with her relatable yet uncliched commentary; only the occasional pause to recalibrate reminds that you you are living in the real world: “And when I grow up, I’m gonna look up from my phone and see my life” will likely strike a chord with many of the Gen-Z and Millennial generations. ““I get this feeling whenever I feel good It’ll be the last time” is a punch to the gut no matter your age. And so the album continues, mediating timeless tropes with generation-specific reflections on pedestrian life.

While her brutal, beautiful lyrics are likely the most defining characteristic of her music, Bridgers’ melodies are the perfect vessel for them. She seamlessly blends genres (indie-rock, alternative, folk-rock), leaning into a particular trend only when it suits, with the harmonies and violin setting ‘Graceland Too’ starkly against the boppy ‘Kyoto’. The morphing and merging genres make Punisher a cohesive yet complicated record, full of underlying anxiety and the occasional laugh. 

Concluding with a clear appreciation for time and stagnation, comedy and tragedy, there is little doubt that Punisher cements Phoebe Bridgers’ place as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our generation. 

Words by Kat Smith

@katlouisesmith

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