Singer. Producer. Raconteur. Shares a band with Connor Oberst. Plays in a indie-supergroup with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus. A winner on Twitter. An artist studying the world with an arched eyebrow, trying to find her place in the modern tempest of life. Phoebe Bridgers is a musician with many talents, and despite her creativity being spread across all the above, her essence of wit mixed with melancholy is displayed in full effect on her sophomore record, Punisher.
Following on from the success of 2017’s Stranger in the Alps, here, Bridgers opens up her sonic palate to incorporate brass arrangements, as heard in the gloriously hopeful sound of ‘Kyoto’, and then again on album closer ‘I Know the End’, where the trumpets crown the protagonists declarations of being a “rebel without a clue”. At times, such as on the electronica sounds of ‘Garden Song’, the instruments sound like they are in competition with each other, fighting to be heard, almost trying to keep in time with one another. These sounds are a world apart from the finger-plucked acoustic songs from the first record, but they show Bridgers’ songwriting branching off into more widescreen sonic sounds.
Lyrically, Punisher retains the pithy one liners that Bridgers’ is fast becoming known for: “We Hate Tears in Heaven/but its sad that his baby died/we fought over John Lennon/Until I cried and then went to bed”, taken from ‘Moon Song’. No-other musician in 2020 is mentioning Eric Clapton and John Lennon together, and it is Bridgers’ half-sung/half spoken delivery of these lines which give them the emphasis that reading them on a page may not. Conversely, Bridgers switches mood on ‘Saviour Complex’, where the lighter arrangements, with a middle 8 that throwsback to the earlier ‘Kyoto’, mask the singers’ almost resigned end to an argument; “I’m too tired to have a p**sing contest”. There is so much joy to be found in the lyrics to Punisher, and repeated listens bring different lines to the forefront.
Whereas guests like the aforementioned Connor Oberst and Warpaint’s Jenny Lee Lindburg make an appearance, the record is totally Bridgers’ own masterpiece. This is not simply a sequel to Stranger in the Alps, but something which ascends to a different level. Bridgers’ has said that Punisher was made in a time where she was much happier than on the first record. It is easy to imagine that wherever Punisher takes her, and it should bring new fans, Bridgers’ will still be writing her commentaries on modern life, and still find time to be droll on Twitter and record with her musical heroes. The world awaits whatever Bridgers’ turns her hands to next.