by Anjali DasSarma
There are few albums that are able to open the door to self-exploration in a wholly honest – pain and all – way, but that’s exactly what Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore record, Punisher, does by giving the listener a sweeping look at her musings.
Best listened to while gazing at the nighttime sky, the tension of existence permeates each lyric, pairing perfectly with its looming synthesisers. Punisher categorises Bridgers’ growth – something that strings along like vines – in all it’s strengths and failures. Bridgers wholeheartedly accepts these trials and mishaps in the most beautiful way; she shows absolutely how capable she is of harnessing and wrangling pain into something wondrous.
The title track begins with eerie double-tracked vocals that slowly dissipate. Her melodic and haunting voice reaches through the speaker, through an open door, as we enter into her thoughts and musings – something we should all feel lucky to have access to. ‘Either I’m careless or I want to get caught,’ she wonders, and it’s unclear whether even she knows the answer.
‘If people hate it, I’m not scared,’ Bridgers said about Punisher. But the strength of her lyrical ability makes it impossible not to empathise with her words. It’s an honest and expressive explanation of what it means to be – taking muddled thoughts to paper and dissecting the tendrils of reality.
‘I want to believe / instead I look at the sky and feel nothing. You know I hate to be alone,’ she sings before impactful drums intertwine with strings to take over on Chinese Satellite. At times, it feels as though the listener is rifling through the pages of her diary. ‘You couldn’t have stuck your tongue down the throat of somebody who loves you more, so I will wait for the next time you want me / like a dog with a bird at your door,’ Bridgers sings, incredulously. The rawness of reality and devastation of loss are enshrined in every line.
A lilting two to three-word lullaby, Savior Complex, serves as one of the LP’s peaks. The 6/8 time signature allows this song to feel like a warm body, laying on the dirt beside the listener, underneath a velvet sky. While the guitar is strummed gently, the strings cut through the softness with a poignancy that only Bridgers can create. It’s one of the many songs on Punisher that ends too soon, leaving the listener yearning for more of her marbled wisdom. Her lyrics push further, dabbling in discourse of the dichotomy of a relationship.
Kyoto and ICU are adjoined like sisters. Both are uncharacteristically upbeat, and Bridgers plays into the oxymoron of catchy music and deeply sad lyrics, mirroring how it can feel to be generally successful, but still have internal turmoil and external problems. The lyrics tell a heavy story with acrid and dry humour. ‘It’s amazing to me how much you can say when you don’t know what you’re talking about,’ Bridgers croons, singing these biting words without a second thought.
On Graceland Too, Bridgers sings about someone turning up the music ‘so thoughts don’t intrude.’ Punisher, released amidst global turmoil, recommends the listener accompany Bridgers on a parallel journey. As her songwriting strengthens, it becomes more cathartic, and she encourages you to turn the dial to the right to drown out the woes of the world. ‘When the sirens sound you’ll hide under the floor / But I’m not gonna go down in my hometown in a tornado. I’m gonna chase it,’ Bridgers announces triumphantly in I Know The End and her fearlessness closes out the album with a screaming crescendo – a rush, a crashing, swirling foam of sound – then leaves us with her echoing, shaky, hissing breaths.
This album shows Bridgers at her best – her brutal honesty and her signature orchestral elements shine through. Her growth is palpable and punctuated by her refreshing transparency of the pains of love, loss and her life as a whole.
Secret Meeting score: 84
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