On ‘Punisher,’ Phoebe Bridgers Builds on Distinct Storytelling Style & Imagery (ALBUM REVIEW)

Punisher, the sophomore album by Los Angeles singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, is an assured collection of brooding meditations that serenade, challenge, and give a glimpse into the psyche of a young artist on the rise. Some of the songs deal with the complex emotions that accompany her rise to fame following her 2017 full-length debut Stranger in the Alps, while others delve into more universal topics like strained relationships, lost love, and depression.

Bridgers’ lyrics are delivered in a stream of consciousness style, jumping between images, interrupting her thoughts, wandering at times, and circling the main topics while poking at them from the edges. 

Most of the songs are slow, deliberate introspections, heavy in melody and poetic imagery, with enough space in the arrangements to take it all in. Lead single “Garden Song” is an exploration of the duality of good an evil coexisting in the world, of dreams and nightmares coming true, and the choice to focus on one or the other. Bridgers’ soft voice flows between various images – memories, dreams, and resolutions.  “Everything’s growing in our garden; you don’t have to know that it’s haunted,” Bridgers sings over an off-kilter, staccato guitar riff, her soothing vocals harmonizing with tour manager Jeroen Vrijhoef’s ominous baritone.

The breezy, upbeat tone of “Kyoto” belies the dark, conflicted nature of the song, as Bridgers sings of the isolation and depression she felt while touring in Japan. “I don’t forgive you, but please don’t hold me to it,” Bridgers sings. “I wanted to see the world through your eyes until it happened; then I changed my mind.” It is the album’s heaviest track, Bridgers’ distorted guitar thudding over Marshall Vore’s frenetic kick drum. 

Moon Song” is one of Punisher’s most heartbreaking tracks, the shimmering guitars and Bridgers’ haunting voice buttressing a tale of caring too much for someone who doesn’t love himself or love her back. “So I will wait for the next time you want me, like a dog with a bird at your door,” Bridgers sings. That imagery is brought up again in the song’s outro, with Bridgers singing, “When you saw the dead little bird you started crying, but you know the killer doesn’t understand.”

After several soft tracks, “ICU” starts on the attack, its pounding drums and guitars and pulsing synths steadily building in intensity to each verse. The dynamic song rises and crashes, distorted guitars and heavy drums giving way to serenity and then pulsing back to life. The song finds Bridgers probing the depression that took hold when she and Vore first broke up. “If you’re a work of art, I’m standing too close. I can see the brush strokes,” Bridgers sings.

Punisher is a worthy follow-up to Bridgers’ impressive debut, building upon her distinctive style of storytelling while adding a bit more flavor. Though mostly soft and measured, the poetic imagery and occasional bursts of dynamism keep the album from ever getting dull.  

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