Published Jun 17, 2020The imagery Phoebe Bridgers uses on Punisher is ransacked from a pop-up Halloween store: there's ghosts, skeletons, dead bodies, and masks. Many of the songs sound like they're floating out of fog machine smoke while on the driving single "I See You," Bridgers admits, "I've been playing dead my whole life."
But all of this spooky imagery, which is similar to that found on Bridgers' 2017 debut Stranger in the Alps, doesn't feel cheap. Underneath, Bridgers' emotional meditations precisely capture a contemporaneous disillusionment and melancholy. Punisher is frightening, and wry too, because Bridgers' lyrics, marked by tender, anxious feelings, are so relevant. "When I grow up, I'm going to look up from my phone and see my life," she pointedly sings on "Garden Song." The album ends with Bridgers screaming and then, finally, softly laughing in spite of herself.
Since her debut, Bridgers has amassed a cohort of talented collaborators, many of which are featured on Punisher. Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, and Bridgers' Better Oblivion Community Center bandmate, is heard on the skittery "Halloween" and her boygenius bandmates Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus sing harmonies on "Graceland Too," a gorgeous country-tinged song that could be a boygenius B-side.
The maturation of Bridgers' craft, and influence of her peers, is apparent on Punisher. The songs alternate between tightly wound pop-rock ("Kyoto") and a soft concoction of folk-rock ("Savior Complex") and both sides feel focused and sturdy. Bridgers keeps getting better and Punisher affirms this.
On "Moon Song," Bridgers channels her best George Bailey and softly sings, "If I could give you the moon, I would give you the moon." Bridgers gives you the moon on Punisher. Which is to say that she gives you everything that you are looking for in a Phoebe Bridgers album but still manages to make it feel miraculous and larger than life.