UNF Spinnaker

Album review: Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers

Carissa Marques, Creative Services Director

Introduction: 

“Punisher” is Phoebe Bridgers’ second independent full-length project released on June 18, 2020. The indie-folk-rock singer is a member of boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Center -Both of which make an appearance in this album. The album explores themes of depression, relationships, and dreams, and how they all seem to intertwine throughout life. Fortunately, Bridgers has been very open with the production of this album, so there are concrete answers for what each of the songs mean. The album is softer in sound, much like Bridgers’ previous work, this time with more orchestral sounds sprinkled throughout the tracks.

Track-by-track Review: 

  1. DVD Menu – The opening track of the album is lyricless, but sets the mood with eerie strings. It sort of sounds like it’s getting ready to transport you to a different world. 
  2. Garden Song – The second track was originally released as a single on February 26, 2020. An inviting melody accompanies Bridgers’ soft voice as she sings about memories from her past in metaphors. Her tour manager, Jeroen Vrijhoef, provides his deep bass voice to sing underneath Bridgers throughout the chorus. Bridgers says, “It’s very much about dreams and — to get really LA on it — manifesting.” I think lyrics like, “everything’s growing in our garden,” show that dreams are like seeds, and take time to grow and manifest. 
  3. Kyoto – Filled with horns, this song sounds grand and climactic. It sounds like one of those songs you would hear in a scene where someone is driving around and the glow of neon signs illuminates the night. Bridgers has stated that this song is both about being on tour and imposter syndrome. I think that some of the lyrics coincide with how “Garden Song” is about dreams turning into a reality, and how some of those dreams aren’t always good. The verse “I wanted to see the world through your eyes until it happened / Then I changed my mind,” sort of points to that. Listeners believe the person she is singing the song to is her father, as she had a difficult relationship with him growing up. 
  4. Punisher – The track for which the album is named after is soft and whimsical. It has that dreamy sound that Bridgers is so good at accomplishing. She says the song is a tribute to her music idol, the late Elliott Smith. In her words, a “punisher” is when, “they’re sweet, they’re just talking to you and they don’t realize that your eyes are glazed over and you’re trying to escape,” the type of fan or person who doesn’t know how to shut up. She thinks she would have been a punisher to Elliott Smith, but feels bad for the way she might treat her fans who are punishers. Maybe it’s me just overthinking, but I feel like I’ve been a punisher, especially while trying to fill awkward silences. 
  5. Halloween – Conor Oberst, Bridgers’ other half in Better Oblivion Community Center, accompanies her vocals in this song. The instrumentals match the rest of what’s been heard on the album so far with acoustic guitars and other wispy sounds. Bridgers says the song is about a dead relationship, but the most haunting lyric is, “they killed a fan down by the stadium.” After reading some interviews, I figured out it wasn’t about one of her fans, but a story she heard about a Giants fan at the L.A. Dodgers stadium being killed after a game in 2019. I still was intrigued by that case and found out the person was not killed, but severely injured. Leave it to Bridgers to sing so gently about gruesome topics. 
  6. Chinese Satellite – This song is filled with beautiful strings and drums that are a bit more intense than previous tracks. Bridgers says that it’s about her lack of faith, but also, “about turning 11 and not getting a letter from Hogwarts, just realizing that nobody’s going to save me from my life.” I find it funny because it shows how she’s not really that old, and is probably close in age with lots of her fans (as she will be 26 in August). 
  7. Moon Song – A song about the dying of romance in a relationship, this is a must-add for any breakup playlist. I feel like this song has some folk undertones to it. Bridgers says, “The through line is that caring about someone who hates themselves is really hard, because they feel like you’re stupid […] it’s that feeling, the wanting-to-be-stepped-on feeling.” I think what she means by this is that sometimes you just want to love someone even if they have no interest in reciprocating the action, wanting something even if it hurts. 
  8. Savior Complex – I think this song flows perfectly from the previous track, as it continues to talk about the complicated relationship. Honestly, the first couple lyrics already hit the heartstrings with, “emotional affair, overly sincere.” The song just continues to talk about trying to love someone – trying to be that savior and have them open up to you, something that usually ends bad anyway. I love Bridgers’ use of so many different instruments in this album as opposed to solely relying on electronic sounds. This song features a clarinet, upright bass, and celeste.
  9. I See You – Right when you finally feel like you’ve cried your eyes out to this album, the mood picks up a bit with “I See You.” It’s about the relationship Bridgers had with her drummer, luckily they were able to preserve their friendship after the heartbreak. Much like the sound of the song, the lyrics coincide with the idea of hopefully being able to get out of a depression, and how a particular person that enters your life sometimes feels like the answer to that. Jenny Lee Lindberg, the bassist from Warpaint, provides accompanying vocals in this song. 
  10. Graceland Too – With a title that includes the name of Elvis’ house, you can expect for this song to sound a bit country. Personally, I normally don’t listen to country music, but this song is a happy medium without too much twang. It continues to talk about the difficulties of loving someone that hates themselves, but in this case a friendship. I love that this song includes all the girls of boygenius, those girls being Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker. I’m sure while listening to this song, you can think of friends you hold dearly, especially when lyrics like, “I would do anything for you,” are repeated throughout the chorus. I think this is one of my favorite songs on the album just because I’m a sucker for an endearing friendship tune. 
  11. I Know The End – Lyrically and instrumentally, this is one of the best endings to an album I’ve ever heard. It just sounds so right, something that wraps it up triumphantly. The instruments are very orchestral and the lyrics are a bit dystopian, very fitting for the times we’re living through. You can hear her singing about how places she grew up in have changed. The song finishes with shouting and heavy breathing, kind of like you just got off a rollercoaster. 

Summary: 

This album was pretty consistent and didn’t take too many risks musically. I liked the way the songs were arranged and the order they were placed in. Honestly, I feel like this album is most fitting for the fall. There are just certain songs and artists that match up with specific seasons, and Phoebe Bridgers always seemed more of an autumn/winter person to me. Regardless, I would give this album a 4/5 Spinnaker Sails. 

Standout Tracks: “Kyoto,” “Punisher,” “Savior Complex,” “Graceland Too,” and “I Know The End.”

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Album review: Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers