Singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers has been making waves for some time now. Attaining mainstream success with her 2017 debut album, Stranger in the Alps, her sense for uncut instrumentation and youthful chaos helped create buzz on the Indie Rock scene. Also a part of two music groups – Boygenius (with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus), and Better Oblivion Community Center (with Conor Oberst) – Bridgers continues her rise to stardom. Now she returns with her highly anticipated sophomore solo album, Punisher, due out via Dead Oceans on Friday, June 19, 2020.
Continuing the story Stranger in the Alps started with, Bridgers is wiser to her musical sensibility and continues to create the balance of instrumental vastness along with uncensored lyrical emotion. Complete with 11 new songs, Punisher begins with the short yet impactful “DVD Menu.” Emulating a dramatic Horror movie with sweeping orchestrated synths, it creates an eerie teaser with a sorrowful violin melody that will simply leave the listener ready for more.
A great start, next comes “Garden Song,” the first hit off the album which creates imagery of whimsical childhood memories along with the reflections of an adult perspective. Combining a folky mandolin harmony with looped keyboard instrumentation creates a musical push and pull; a sonic metaphor for the adult to child contemplation. Then “Kyoto” seems to take influence from other female-driven bands, such as Rilo Kiley, with upbeat trumpets and easy instrumentation to clap along to. It is Bridgers’ most upbeat track on the album, and delightfully plays with the idea of instrumentation and how it can create an irony alongside the lyricism.
It is easy to see why the aforementioned songs were selected as singles. Projecting a relatable subject matter, the album title-track comes next with a gentle musical approach. Complete with gliding and crescendoing instrumentation, it is like a delicate floating feather, swinging with the emotions as it begins to land on the ground. The ground represents the yearning for understanding in the lyrics, and the raw emotion is continually shining through this and each of the tracks to follow. For example, “Halloween” expresses the sincerity of how far people can go for love, all with a twinge of dark humor added into the mix. It plays into the idea that, even on the scariest night of the year, we can be anything we want to be in life.
Continuing to give listeners more of what they yearn for, the depth and musical tension continues with “Chinese Satellite.” Here the drums and violins utilize a warped effect that creates deepness, while also establishing a sense of angst at the forefront. On the other hand, “Moon Song” offers a calmer symphonic texture with simplicity. Combining synthesizers with varying string instruments, young love is sung about with the most hauntingly yet warming voice, thus amplifying the feeling of the song.
Then there is “Saviour Complex,” one of the most emotionally raw pieces on the record. Then, with heavier synthesizers “ICU” creates more metaphorically sharp and edgy angles. It amplifies on the youthful and uncut tenderness of the overall album, while the second to last track, “Graceland Too,” takes on a smoother, folksier feel. And last but not least, “I Know the End” gifts a faster tempo that lyrically creates a sense of closure. With trumpets and autoharps that intensify the establishment of a metaphorical ending, guitar and piano come in and give the sense of chaotic swirls as if the world is coming to an end.
Overall, Phoebe Bridgers has created an album that has a wide variety of emotional and instrumental vastness that resonates sincerity. With the help of her Boygenius bandmates, along with the likes of Conor Oberst and Nathaniel Walcott, to Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Jenny Lee Lingberg of Warpaint, Punisher glides through both delicacy and chaos simultaneously. And that is why Cryptic Rock gives it 4 out of 5 Stars.