Somewhere between LA and the spirit realm resides the friendly ghost and folk-rock singer, Phoebe Bridgers. Her highly anticipated second solo record, Punisher conjures visions of ghost towns and painstaking self-reflection. Since her rise to stardom following the release of her debut album Stranger In The Alps in 2017, Bridgers has become a quintessential voice of our generation who strives to “normalize personhood” through her candidness and deeply personal lyrics.
Though Bridgers finished recording the album before stay at home orders were issued, the struggles she sings about throughout Punisher seem to capture the emotions many of us are experiencing right now: finding normalcy in dissociation and anxiously anticipating the future. Bridgers dropped the album early Thursday morning, a day before its scheduled release. “I’m not pushing the record until things go back to “normal” because I don’t think they should. Here it is a little early” she wrote. “Abolish the police. Hope you like it.”
The album highlights the hazes and heartbreaks in navigating through young adulthood in today’s world and all of its absurdity. “If I woke up every morning and thought about the reality of everything, it would totally consume me,” she said earlier this year in her New Yorker spotlight. “I have to think about it as if it’s happening in a movie.”
Bridgers’ cinematic take on the world translates throughout her music, as if she has some supernatural ability to watch past events of her life from an out of body point-of-view and screen it for the world. She sets the scene with a minute long eerie instrumental prelude titled “DVD Menu,” followed by “Garden Song,” a ballad about Bridgers’ own growth and fighting darkness, which that acts as a bridge or sequel to “Smoke Signals,” the lead single on Stranger In The Alps. On “Garden Song,” Bridgers is accompanied by her tour manager, Jeroen, whose low, baritone voice serves as a beautiful contrast to Bridgers’ light and ethereal one.
Bridgers is a master storyteller and a sardonic poet. Her songs are filled with personal anecdotes, inside jokes, and clever play on words that often go unheard at first listen as they’re neatly tucked behind her stony voice. Bridgers and her music are paradoxal — her voice is soft and delicate, her tone seemingly impassive and monotone, but her lyrics are pensive and fervent as they are nihilistic and ghoulish. And though her songs are filled with personal anecdotes and inside jokes from Bridgers’ personal life, her hyper-specific lyrics are nuanced enough where the listener can also relate.
Take “Moon Song” for example. Bridgers sings about a past relationship in striking detail, recounting an argument they’d had about John Lennon, crying herself to sleep, and dreaming of a past birthday party (“You’re singing at my birthday / and I’ve never seen you smiling so big ‘ it’s nautical themed”), yet the pain of loving someone who doesn’t love themselves is tangible and relatable (“If I could give you the moon / I would give you the moon.”)
She writes, “So I will wait for the next time you want me / Like a dog with a bird at your door,” comparing how a dog will bring a dead bird to its owner thinking it’s a gift, though it’s unwanted, and refers back to this at the end of the song (“When you saw the dead little bird / You started crying / But the killer doesn’t understand.”) In the same way the dog tries to give its owner the dead bird, Bridgers is trying to give her love to her partner who doesn’t want or need it, a song that pervades through the next song “Savior Complex.” She returns to the dog/bird analogy in the final song of the record, “I Know The End,” though this time it seems as if the roles are reversed (“And when I call, you come home / A bird in your teeth.”)
Not only does “Punisher” further cement Bridgers as an assured songwriter, but also as a skilled producer and versatile collaborator. On the song “Graceland Too,” Bridgers tapped in Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, her bandmates from boygenius. She also pulled in Conor Oberst, her partner in Better Oblivion Community Center, for a duet in the last track of the album, “I Know The End.” Bridgers begins “I Know The End” as a normal folk song recounting the distinct feeling she gets while driving up the coast of California, one she’s done often. A little more than half-way through, the song takes an uplifting shift before taking an apocalyptic turn, and is accompanied by a “scream orchestra.” The song and album end with a long winded scream by Bridgers herself.