Phoebe Bridgers Punisher Dead Oceans
The emotional clarity of Phoebe Bridgers’ debut Stranger in the Alps was as striking as a kick in the shins. On Punisher, that clarity is hidden behind a smokescreen of uncertainties. “I’ve been running around in circles”, she sings on Chinese Satellite, her soft, misleadingly sweet vocals floating over a churning, repetitive guitar melody, anchored in static. The song, the album’s exact midpoint, is tangled in the conflicting, cyclical desires – of hope, selfhood, and direction – that resurface over and over again.
Kyoto, a euphorically sad folk-rock road song about a rare day off, begins with postcard enthusiasm but gets lost in pin-prick memories of her Los Angeles childhood. “I wanted to see the world/ Then I changed my mind”, Bridgers eventually confesses, singing against her own backing vocals, whilst the momentum of rolling drums and uplifting brass pushes on without her.
Few musicians do bittersweet like Bridgers. Punisher is stacked with familiar faces (Conor Oberst, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, to name a few), but the push-and-pull of the album’s desire to be here and simultaneously somewhere else has Bridgers’ uniquely gentle, brutal touch.
I Know the End, the record’s closer, is Bridgers at her best: from sparse, lullaby-like beginnings it becomes something rougher and wilder than anything she’s written before. It ends with a roar of bravery and a sharp intake of breath – a fitting last gasp for an album embracing an uncertain future.