Solitude is the ultimate Punisher in Phoebe Bridgers’ second solo album, a tragic evocation of what it is to be in love with loneliness. Each song is an exploration of Bridgers own consciousness where heartbreak transforms into euphoric nostalgia. Her mind is alive against the backdrop of a dark and decaying world.
Her music is a form of lyrical poetry, and her vocal jazz training at LA County High School can clearly be heard in her voice’s unique falsetto. Her lyrics have a poignancy which I feel mirrors the likes of Billie Holiday or folk/ jazz singer Joni Mitchell whose album Blue, Bridgers grew up listening to. An indie concept album, Punisher is a dedication to the modern world.
Punisher’s intro track ‘DVD Menu’, is a stunningly haunting song – the instrumental fleeting but memorable. The cello replaces Bridger’s voice with a repetitive melody that never reaches a crescendo. While it only lasts for one minute, it leaves a feeling of emptiness in its wake. When I listened to the first single on the album, ‘Garden Song,’ I couldn’t get a line out of my head:
“And when I grow up, I’m gonna look up from my phone and see my life. And it’s gonna be just like my recurring dream.”
Here, 25-year-old Bridger puts into question the happiness of a generation that is reliant on technology. Our phones obstruct our worldview, they create false happiness that isn’t tangible and, in essence, is a distraction from the truth of a flawed reality. The perfect image on Instagram is a ‘dream’ that everyone has access to. As the garden metaphorically outgrows the broken house, we will outgrow our phones and find out that, like the garden, social media is a beautiful but addictive poison. The synthesised bassline absorbs the listener, the light fingerpicking of the guitar is enthralling against the airy tones of Bridger’s voice. The man who touches her leg disappears as he is only a memory, just as backing singer Zane Lowe’s vocal layering disappears with each verse. The song reflects on fading relationships and moving on from the past.
“The doctor put her hands over my liver, she told me my resentment’s getting smaller.”
Bridger reflects on her childhood, the resentment she holds towards her father who she describes as inflicting “textbook domestic violence” and highlights how self-medicating became a way of dealing with her past. While her past is relatively unknown to the media, her music expresses the difficulties of her childhood. This song is a tearjerker with a simple yet powerful message; we can’t punish ourselves over our pasts. Phoebe conveys that she is moving forward which may be a reflection of her sexuality, having come out as bisexual in 2018. She ends the song with-
“I have everything I ever wanted.”
It is exactly why there is an immediate transition to ‘Kyoto’, an upbeat track about visiting Japan for the first time. She reminisces about ‘Scorpio skies’ before the world metaphorically changed.
Bridger collaborated and toured with British band The 1975 and I feel that this song is very similar to the aesthetic of their 2017 album ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships.’
You can find Phoebe on a worldwide tour with Matt Healy and the band next year.
The standout song on the album, for me, is titled ‘I Know The End’. It is a stunning end to the album as Bridger transitions from indie to rock. The orchestra, the euphoric screams that cause the song to crescendo create an indescribable feeling for the listener. The screams carry on till all that can be heard is her breathing.
“The end is near,” she repeats with hyperbole.
But I would argue that she is only just beginning.
Considering Bridgers’ experience of domestic violence, and the recent allegations of abusers at QMUL, below are some resources to help those experiencing domestic violence.