ALBUM: “Punisher” by Phoebe Bridgers
RELEASE YEAR: 2020
LABEL: Dead Oceans
RATING /10: 10 – an emo-folk masterpiece
BEST TRACKS: “Moon Song”, “Halloween” and “ICU”
Phoebe Bridgers got nominated in March 2021 in the Spotify Awards as “Best New Artist of 2021”, and as someone who’s been a fan of her music ever since her first album came out, I thought I’d write something about her second album “Punisher”, which led her to slowly but surely rise to the success she’s always deserved. If I had one dollar for every time I’ve cried listening to Phoebe Bridgers, I’d be filthy rich by now. If you’re not familiar with her music, let me try to describe it metaphorically for you. While Phoebe’s first album “Stranger In The Alps” sounded like a quiet whisper coming from the French mountains, “Punisher” sounds like a mellow cry for help coming from the nocturnal abyss of the desert. That’s the closest I can get to describing her style, which fits into the folk, indie and emo genres all at the same time. Each song off the album perfectly renders her emo-folk apocalyptic universe: low reverbed notes, a slow strumming of the guitar and Phoebe’s soft voice as an echo — that’s how “Punisher” sounds like as a whole. The only songs that are not quite like the others are surprisingly “Kyoto”, which has been her most famous single off the album, and “Graceland Too”. While every other song makes me want to curl up under a blanket and stare endlessly at the ceiling, “Kyoto” is more on the upbeat and fast-paced side, and the banjo in “Graceland Too” makes for a really great country-folk ballad.
That being said, if you really want to appreciate Phoebe’s music, pay attention to the lyrics. As far as I’m concerned, I could spend hours reading about “Punisher”’s lyrics on Genius. If you look into it, you’ll quickly realize that what sounds like your regular sad folk song actually depicts obscure stories about drugs, death, dead relationships and Phoebe’s existential crisis – all at the same time. The album cover matches perfectly what she writes about: Phoebe is standing alone in the desert in a skeleton suit, bathing in bright red light, while the world around her is engulfed in dark blue. In an interview with “Our Culture Mag”, Olof Grind, the Swedish photographer behind the cover, describes Phoebe as “standing completely still, waiting to be beamed up by aliens” and it reminded me instantly of “Chinese Satellite” where she mentions wanting to believe in extraterrestrial life: “I look at the sky and I feel nothing / You know I hate to be alone / I want to be wrong”. Phoebe is desperately looking for “a new place to be from” (“I Know The End”) by staring at the stars in the sky, but can hardly bring herself to believe in anything supernatural.
What fascinates me most about Phoebe is her ability to incorporate contemporary poetry techniques into her songwriting, by bringing together completely unrelated themes in a way that feels oddly normal. “Always surprised by what I do for love / Some things I never expect / They killed a fan down by the stadium / Was only visiting and they beat him to death”. These lines from “Halloween” correlates codependent tendencies with the literal murder of a hooligan after a game, and while it doesn’t really make sense, it somehow does. Passion and death always seem to find their way back to each other in Phoebe’s universe.
I firmly believe you have to listen to “Punisher” as one long poem to truly get its essence. If this is your first time listening to this album, I would recommend playing the songs in order and listen to each one of them until the very end. It’s the only way you’ll be able to fully indulge in their melancholy. However, if you’re looking for a specific song to drown your sadness in, “Moon Song” struck me as one of the most heartbreaking song on the album. “You couldn’t have / Stuck your tongue down the throat of somebody / Who loves you more / So I will wait for the next time you want me / Like a dog with a bird at your door” – these lines crushed me instantly when I heard them for the first time, and they still do even after my 100000th time listening.
Saying that “Punisher” is one of my favorite albums of all time would be an understatement. Listening to Phoebe strumming the guitar and singing about dead relationships, supernatural entities and the end of the world strangely makes me feel safe, like I’ve found a home in her peaceful yet dark post-apocalyptic universe. If you haven’t listened to “Punisher” yet but plan to, let this be your final content warning: you can let Phoebe sing you to sleep, but you must expect her to come haunting your dreams afterwards.
- Lise Nox