Since her 2017 debut, my soul has been attacked by Phoebe Bridgers’ music. Her power grows stronger with her new record “Punisher.”
“Punisher” is Bridgers’ second solo LP, and it’s a devastating bundle of raw emotion. Lyrics cut deeply. Instruments lull you into a somber headspace, shoving you into misty rooms decorated with portraits of people crying.
“Punisher” is Bridgers’ finest work to date. Unlike her 2017 record “Stranger in the Alps,” these songs are more varied. They’re not all slow burns, down-tempo ballads with a morose disposition.
Album closer “I Know the End” ambles forward slowly before transforming into an energetic procession. Horns blare, synths pulse and percussion grows. A chorus of voices chant: “The end is here.” And then it becomes an absolute apocalypse. Wolves howl and screams reverberate through the mix. An operatic orchestral piece that sounds like it could be from some demented, Dracula musical violently carries the album to its close.
“Kyoto” is an almost upbeat story of touring. “ICU” is a bundle of kinetic energy, with synths that could belong to a straightforward, indie pop record. But this isn’t a straightforward indie pop record, and eventually, the emotional attacks begin to reveal themselves.
“I’ve been playing dead my whole life,” Bridgers’ sings 30 seconds into “ICU.”
So many lines on this album are brimming with intense anguish. Recently, a friend told me he hadn’t listened to the entire record yet because it’s too sad.
There are two major reasons why these songs are so upsetting. First, there are some lines that fill me with a feeling I can only describe as “I’m in this photo, and I don’t like it.”
“And I get this feeling whenever I feel good,” Bridgers croons on “ICU.” “It’ll be the last time.”
Then, there are lines that are just terribly sad.
On “Chinese Satellite” Bridgers laments: “I want to believe. Instead I look up at the sky, and I feel nothing.”
I love sad music. A lot of the time it can be cathartic, a way to release negative feelings. Sometimes listening to this record feels like I’m just listening to someone read a list of all of my intrusive thoughts. There’s positives and negatives to that, of course. It’s nice to confront sadness, shine a light on it in an effort to expunge it. But sometimes people just want to use music to smooth out their brain.
“Punisher” is a powerful record. It's a wonderful record, but it’s one you can’t listen to all the time.
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