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Album Review // PHOEBE BRIDGERS ‘Punisher’

On Punisher, the indie cult classic singer/songwriter demonstrates her talents of lyrical storytelling and eerie instrumental imagery to convey her anecdotal wisdom into a universal feeling. 

Phoebe Bridgers Punisher 2020

The emo-folk, cult songwriter Phoebe Bridgers released her 2020 album, Punisher after three years of musical refinement where she mastered miserable indie-pop in Stranger In The Alps, fresh folk-rock in Better Oblivion Community Center (collaboration with Conor Oberst), and canonical yet grunge singer-songwriter in boygenius (collaboration with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus). Bridgers uses her evolved skills in sonic backdrops, lavish vocals, and fertile storytelling to birth a seamless balance between inclusive instrumentation and vocal renditions; an auditory chapter book filled with essays about cruel life and sincere suffering. Following the robust, string-heavy opening track, DVD Menu, Punisher kindly delivers ten tracks reflected on Bridgers’ stream of consciousness and newfound musical mastery. Her work abides by her infamous lyrical cliches, melodramatic childhood trauma, and a fresh feud between acoustic guitars and emo synthesizers.

The idiosyncrasies of Stranger In The Alps are still steadily prominent in the early creation of the project. Garden Song is an ode to manifestation with bouncy guitar plucking and soft narration. The track brings forth the simple belief – good will attract good while bad will attract bad. As Bridger’s whispers: “No I’m not afraid of hard work / I get everything I want / I have everything I wanted.” This is followed by the contradicting track, Kyoto, where dissociation and imposter syndrome feed into the upbeat tempo as she reflects, “I wanted to see the world / Through your eyes until it happened / Then I changed my mind.”

The title track, Punisher, conjures up twinkling synth performances and a haunting vocal portrayal of irrelevance. Halloween becomes an essential testament to Bridgers’ gutting imagery and alluring tales of subtle drum beats and perfectly plucked guitar riffs. Yet the sharply pungent side of the album is embedded within the lyrical craftsmanship, as she hums in the atheist-focused track Chinese Satellite: “I want to believe / Instead, I look at the sky and I feel nothing.” Similarly, in the lovesick anthem Moon Song, “You started crying / But you know the killer doesn’t understand,” there is a sudden pain that outshines all melodies.

Bridgers paints an authentic form of dread that is clearly an understatement for the world we are living in. As the gloomy indie artist sings, “I’m a bad liar / With a savior complex” partnered by sedated clarinet melodies, performed by Blake Mills, in Savoir Complex. We are reminded that self-loathing is a common coping mechanism for the dispirited – a form we all participate in.

Bridgers has proved to many that her graceful growth is not one to ignore. A tempting and thought-provoking album like Punisher becomes a necessary leader into a new age of lightness. Graceland Too embodies the lightness of humor yet the heavy burden of pain as Bridgers sings about the aftermath of a mental health crisis with a country twang. There is a need for a change in society, in music, and in ourselves as Bridgers sings, “Yeah, I guess the end is here,” before an explosion of vocals, instrumentation, and inaudible soundbites clash into one another in the final track, I Know The End. A simple reminder that even with a foreseeable end arriving, there is still hope for a new beginning to follow.