ALBUM: “Stranger in the Alps” by Phoebe Bridgers
RELEASE YEAR: 2017
LABEL: Dead Oceans
BEST TRACKS: “Funeral” “Smoke Signals” “Scott Street”
Released in 2017, “Stranger in the Alps” is Phoebe Bridgers’ debut album. This record was a remarkable launching point for Bridgers, and is everything a debut album should be. With themes ranging from loss, loneliness and depression, the album is sad, honest, but not overly cynical. The album’s title is in reference to “The Big Lebowski,” and the way a line of the movie was edited for the TV (clean) version of the film; irony is clearly never lost on Bridgers and her humor peeks its way through her lyricism throughout the album.
On tracks “Georgia” and “Motion Sickness” she lets her vocals shine, although they stand out on every track. As I said on my “Best of Phoebe Bridgers” blog post, Bridgers’ “diary-like storytelling, sorrowful disposition, smooth vocals, and folky melodies combine to make top-tier indie music.”
Bridgers, no stranger to collaboration, worked with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes on this album. Track 9, titled “Would You Rather,” contains vocals from Oberst, whom she later would collaborate with on Better Oblivion Community Center. She keeps her inspirations and predecessors tangible in her work, with references to the deaths of David Bowie and Lemmy Kilmister in the record’s first track, “Smoke Signals.” The penultimate track of the album “You Missed My Heart” is a cover of a song by the same title originally by Mark Kozelek, released in 2013 on “Live at Phoenix Public House Melbourne.”
“Stranger in the Alps” is sonically and thematically cohesive, although sometimes it does fall victim to repetitiveness. Totaling 11 tracks and clocking in at 44 minutes, the album feels like a good length and tends to be more refreshing than it is redundant. The final track of the album, “Smoke Signals (Reprise)” ties the album together with a callback to the first track.
Although I definitely prefer her sophomore album “Punisher,” which was released in 2020 (be sure to check out Lise Nox’s review of it), “Stranger in the Alps” certainly gives that album a run for its money.