Phoebe Bridgers' sophomore record allows us to exist between our dreams and reality
A moody bass guitar hums onto the scene as sorrowful strings drift in and out before a few echoed guitar notes are heard. ‘DVD Menu’ is our introduction to Phoebe Bridgers‘ sophomore album Punisher, lasting just over a minute long before fading out abruptly. Keeping her cards close to her chest, the snippet tempts us enough to want to know more, without the singer giving it all away at once.
Phoebe Bridgers officially came onto the music scene in 2017 with her debut album Stranger in the Alps which established a sense of sorrow in her storytelling, with her music often focusing on mundane life happenings, set against a beautiful folk backdrop. Since, her success has risen both critically and commercially. She has also teamed with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker to form the supergroup Boygenius.
‘Garden Song’, the first single of the new album released back in February, flirts with several memories and dreams Bridgers’ has had. The lyrics position the singer either as a grown Phoebe or a young Phoebe, focusing on reflection and projection. The song begins in the present offering reassurance to her younger self, inferring that despite the dreamy young Phoebe had aspirations, she had to endure an intense childhood. In an interview with Fader Magazine, Bridgers talks of her parents’ relationship, her father’s domestic abuse toward her mother, and their eventual divorce when she was 19. Moments such as when her “skinhead neighbour goes missing” and that her home “went up in flames” are immediately confessed but balanced with natural imagery of the garden – the symbol of escapism and growth. In her conclusion, she sings “No, I’m not afraid of hard work / I get everything I want / I have everything I wanted.” On one hand, this may continue Bridgers’ reassurance to her younger self. However, on the other hand, these lyrics are humbling. She is allowing herself to see the journey taken to get to a place where she has what her young self dreamt of and did that on her own terms along the way.
Her other two singles, Kyoto and I See You embody tragedy amongst an array of humorous confessions and opinions, such as Bridgers’ irritation with past lover’s mother. They embrace the indie-rock sound of driven guitars that power through choruses before settling in the verses where the drums steadily mark the end of each lyric. Bridgers’ sonic experimentation with her music balancing indie rock and delicate folk has paid off in creating a solid body of work with a distinct identity somewhere between dreaminess and reality. She allows for her two worlds to merge into an irresistible scape unbound by limit.
Despite Phoebe Bridgers’ introspective tendencies, the closing song ‘I Know the End’ looks outward. T, that centres on current American culture, starts off with delicate, twangy guitar notes that feel romantic and soothing. However, as she travels further away from her bedroom, she begins to pick out societal events. She sings: “Over the coast, everyone’s convinced / It’s a government drone or an alien spaceship / Either way, we’re not alone / I’ll find a new place to be from”. This is an anthem of attempting to navigate the increasing chaos of America, especially as a person who has struggled to find belonging. So, although the song ends with a collection of artists screaming “The end is here”, Bridgers’ own troubled background remains at the forefront of it all.
Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Punisher’ is out now via Dead Oceans.