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Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher (Album Review)

Wednesday, 24 June 2020 Written by Helen Payne

The last time a leap year occurred, Phoebe Bridgers was in her early 20s. She was unsigned, and she had never left the United States. In a recent interview she recalled writing a list of goals she wanted to achieve by the time the next one rolled around. It included releasing three albums, touring the world, and visiting Ireland.

Here we are in 2020, and while the world isn’t in the state we thought it might be when we hit the next February 29, Bridgers has achieved her goals, and then some. Alongside her well-received and deeply melancholic debut ‘Stranger in the Alps’, she has put out collaborative LPs with Conor Oberst (as Better Oblivion Community Center) and Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus (as Boygenius).  Touring these records, she’s stopped off all over the world (including Ireland).

But the thing that hits hardest on ‘Punisher’, her second solo LP, is the way it points out that sometimes achieving your goals isn’t always as fulfilling as you thought it would be.

Kyoto, a brass-led pop song and her most upbeat track to date, embodies this feeling with its contrasting chorus lyrics: “I wanted to see the world, then I flew over the ocean and changed my mind.” But the joyous, emphatic tones here make us believe it’s OK to feel this way.

It’s revelations like this that make Bridgers’ work so touching, and ‘Punisher’ was assembled with these truths in mind. It’s just as gut-wrenching, powerful and emotional as ‘Stranger in the Alps’, just ever so slightly more Phoebe. What’s more, she notes, for all that’s amazing about achieving goals and nailing aspirations, there’s always going to be something lurking that you can’t get away from. 

Much like its predecessor, Bridgers’ best writing here results in songs that make you cry. She’s still taking on themes like childhood memories and the passing of time, on Garden Song, depression and heartbreak, on I See You, but she delivers things with a wry sense of humour that’s never afraid to be self-deprecating. 

 ‘Punisher’ is a haunting album, yet also carefully meditative. Bridgers assimilates musical tropes from artists she’s worked with over the past few years—the subtle dubbing of Bon Iver-esque autotune on the title track, the resplendent exploration of instrumentation à la Baker—and blends them with her own experiences to craft a truly mesmerising collection of songs.

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