Phoebe Bridgers was due to release her much anticipated second album Punisher on 19 June. But a day before this date, making sure to not steal any focus or distract from a turbulent time in America’s history, the singer stated online: “Here it is a little early. Abolish the police. Hope you like it.”
As can be expected from those familiar with the solo work of the California native, the LP packs an emotional punch. The confessional content packaged in her now trademark conversational prose gives the feeling you have stumbled into someone’s therapy session. But when combined with the record’s eerie soundscapes and chugging-along lo-fi rhythms urging you into a sort of sad body groove, the LP makes for a very moving experience of both body and soul.
Throughout Punisher there are moments where one can become self-involved in the heartbreak and get deep in the murk of sombre material with lyrics like: “And I get this feeling / Whenever I feel good / It’ll be the last time.” But it is the songwriter’s ability to frequently deliver joyously blunt lines that secures the overall experience as, yes, definitely saddening, but cushioned with enough hopefulness and humanity. On I See You, Bridgers speaks to an ex (who she’s still friends with, by the way) about his mother: “I hate your Mom / I hate it when she opens her mouth / It’s amazing to me / How much you can say / When you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Garden Song is a homely-set letter to the past, present and future, and it is Bridgers’ best song yet. There’s a ghostly but overall comforting air that runs through the track, with a rhythmic soundbed akin to a broken radio transmission supporting Bridgers’ delicate tones in the verse and a baritone male voice entering to deliver a haunting duet in the chorus.
Kyoto and I See You are the somewhat more upbeat, higher tempo songs on the record but as pieces of work they simply don’t stand out among the rest. Sure, it is useful to offer some sort of bunt up from the sad and wistful, but it’s the sad and wistful that Bridgers does so impeccably well. While you are certainly being dined in the house of sadness, the breadth of quality in the song writing, the vocals and production assure that you are being dined like a king.