Phoebe Bridgers ‘Punisher’ Review
Drowning desolation becomes one of the years most opaque moments of clarity
It’s a groggy Monday morning. I wake abruptly, robotically pull myself out of bed and prepare for a long workday - a workday alongside wretched conservatives who nonsensically speak of politics and modern ideals that command me to scoffingly laugh and gag all in a time period too small to contemplate a true response. But, hey! I need the money. I begin my drive, Shuffle through songs by Bob Dylan, The 1975, McCartney, The Velvet Underground… minimalistic rarities that ease me into my day to day. Until I reach Bridgers. It’s not often in the current whiplash of music consumerism we find artists who make us stop for a second and breathe.
The album opens with “DVD Menu”. A cryptic soundscape engulfed by reversed guitar and faded, ghastly orchestral splendor, preparing the listener to be entranced by what’s to follow. Then, with a slight pause, the space brightens with the finger picked basis that is “Garden Song”. A slight, sullen tape delay illuminates the empty space we've been sat in as Phoebe opens with the lines, “Someday, I’m gonna live in your house up on the hill, and when your skinhead neighbor goes missing, I'll plant a garden in the yard.” Welcomed by nostalgic euphoria, you can't help but to laugh. A subtle wink, a sarcastic nod, as if you and your friends had made a joke unbeknownst to the opposing party. A theme of relativity that lives throughout the entirety of the project.
The following song “Kyoto”, a brilliantly abrasive, radio ready indie pop track that boasts tasteful trumpet leads over a pulsing bass and drum beat surrounded by distorted guitar, is soo much more than a billboard hit. The whole track has a potency of substantial lyricism that personally speaks to those with troubling parental guidance and vivid childhood memories, both traumatic and yet somehow, positively memorable. “I want to kill you, if you don’t beat me to it” and “Remember getting the truck fixed, you let us drive it, twenty-five felt like flying” stand as moments in time perfectly solidified in condensed phrasing, that you get so stuck in that moment, you lose sight of the following.
Onto the title track “Punisher” and follow up “Halloween” which embrace minimal reverbed piano leads and hauntingly plucked guitars, the narrative remains the same. A hot knife digging through the veil of what we conceal. The slow, modest, phased trumpet introduces the melody line at the end of “Halloween” which breaks through to one of the most revealing lines of the album - “Whatever you want. I’ll be whatever you want.” Using the metaphor of masking ourselves on a popular holiday to display the despair and excuse for our need of acceptance, is simply chilling, with a sonic to back it up.
Bridgers goes on to break the wall between pride and vulnerability and personal experience, through the rest of the tracks such as “Savior Complex” where she states, “You’re a vampire, you want blood and I promised. I’m a bad liar, with a savior complex,” and “ICU” when she says, “I hate your mom. I hate it when she opens her mouth. It amazes me how much you can say when you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
It then breaks to the closing track, “I Know The End”. A three part song that thrives on buildup and increasingly brash lyricism, that of which, is usually not common among 25 year old songwriters. Fully reflective and so specific to the point of topographical placement, Bridgers gracefully navigates her way through fame, touring, and her experience of her circumstantial life. In the buildup of chaos toward the final minute and a half of the song, we are faced with an onslaught of visuals depicting hundreds of miles of scenic change and cultural borders that lead to the catastrophic dystopia which is the metaphorical ‘end’.
Bridgers is a voice only found so rarely. A mirror of society; forgiving our insincerity and bringing light to our bleak nihilism. ”Punisher” is an album that makes you think, feel, regret, breathe... live; in light of the past, and in hope for the future.