There have been few artists that have blown me away on first impression. Usually, it takes a couple of tracks for me to come to a conclusion on if I’m going to write a review for the specific album I’m listening to or if I’ll listen to the artist in the future. However, it took one song for me to be absolutely stunned by Phoebe Bridgers.
Punisher is the sophomore record from the 26-year-old Californian. I came across this record because it had received a lot of praise over the summer and the vast array of GRAMMY nominations for her sealed the deal in my interest of listening to it. Thank God I did because this is a very special project.
Unlike many albums that I have listened to and formally reviewed over the past few years, Punisher struck me with Bridgers’ willingness to peel back the layers and completely open herself up and allow us to enter her state of mind. I can only show admiration because artists either hide behind their fame in their music or there just isn’t all there when they do want to get personal.
This is a very intimate record as Bridgers’ voice glistens right in your ear and it feels, for 40 minutes, that she wipes away all your burdens and worries and carries them herself as she delves into some heavy topics.
The title track “Punisher” is one of the standout tracks in terms of the writing and Bridgers defining what a “punisher” is. With a lot of this record being a tribute to the late Elliott Smith, she feels as though she’s stalking him through her music and while she means well, she’s afraid it might get to the point where Smith would’ve rolled his eyes if they ever had an interaction. She also takes the viewpoint of a fan and the moments where a fan will wait hours for an autograph, but she just wants to sleep in her touring bus.
On the surface, “Kyoto” may be the most upbeat and “fun” track on the record, but it’s actually one of the darkest as she talks about always wanting to be where she isn’t. However, this is only one of the themes as she also implements the difficult relationship with her abusive father, whom she feels empathy for, but also hates at the same time.
While, sonically, not as terrifying as you’d expect a track titled “Halloween” to sound, it is still horrifying in its lyricism. Bridgers talks about a romantic relationship that is struggling and even on day like Halloween, where you can literally pretend to be anything or anybody you want, the two are just stuck in this horrid connection and the life is just being sucked out of her because the fun has completely vanished from the relationship.
Another song that stuck to me like glue was “ICU.” Bridgers details a breakup and how much it killed her inside to lose a connection that was so strong when her and her ex were best friends. Especially for myself, it’s so easy to get lost in love. When you are in a relationship with someone you developed a really good connection prior, that heartbreak hits different because it’s unlikely that you two can go back to being the good friends you were when you first met. It really sucks and I’ll leave it at that.
Sprinkled throughout the rest of the record are just beautiful ballads with instrumentals that are easy on the ear and Bridgers’ voice is just so beautiful and satisfying to listen to. Honestly, I could just listen to the record for hours and just be in total zen.
Aside from a track or two that are a little too dull for my ear or don’t connect with me on a personal level like some of the other tracks did, I adore this album. I think Bridgers is going to be a name that’s anticipated whenever she drops a record in the future. There’s a nice mix of maturity on the project, but she also doesn’t forget to have fun with what she is making, even when some of the material is serious.
Richest Tracks: “Garden Song”, “Kyoto”, “Punisher”, “Halloween”, “Moon Song”, “Savior Complex”, “ICU”, “I Know The End”
Worst Track: “Chinese Satellite”
Listen to the album