Album Review: Phoebe Bridgers' 'Punisher' Came Out At The Perfect Time

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has felt a whole lot of feelings during the past 7 months. With the pandemic turning our world upside down and having to isolate ourselves from the rest of society, it’s been really easy to stay stuck inside our heads. In the past 9 months we’ve witnessed some really chaotic stuff. Sickness, injustice, election season, the list goes on. Some days, it’s like you just want to curl up in a ball and turn off your brain.

As things got really bad over the summer, a little gift was dropped into our laps whether you’re aware of it or not. When indie rock musician Phoebe Bridgers released her album Punisher a day early this past June, she told her followers on twitter, “I’m not pushing the record until things go back to ‘normal’ because I don’t think they should.” (@traitor_joe). 

Thank goodness she didn’t push back this record, because Bridgers’ outstanding album provides her fans with a much-needed listening experience that can aid your next cry session, 30-minute meditation or manifestation circle. It has even earned her four Grammy nominations. As COVID-19 cases surge and we may find ourselves quarantining again, now is the time to discover new music.

Whether you’ve listened to it or are preparing to, I’m gonna take you track-by-track through Punisher, the album I have declared as my official internal soundtrack of this twisted 2020.

 

Track #1: DVD Menu

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve listened to an album that starts with a musical prelude. But when listening to “DVD Menu,” it does quite sound like you’ve just inserted Punisher into your DVD player (if you even have one anymore) and you’re checking things out before your listening journey. Although you probably won’t want to listen to “DVD Menu” more than once, don’t just skip it during your first listen if you want the full experience. I recommend admiring the album’s gorgeous cover while listening to it. They seem to complement each other perfectly, being eerie yet tranquil.

 

Track #2: Garden Song

When was the last time you properly manifested something? Or have you never done it? Well if you could use some inspiration, listen to “Garden Song.” To personally connect with her listeners, Bridgers released short, written descriptions for each track on Punisher for Apple Music. In it, she mentioned that when she wrote “Garden Song,” she wrote it about manifesting all her good thoughts coming true. 

Bridgers said, “if you’re someone who believes that good people are doing amazing things no matter how small, and that there’s beauty or whatever in the midst of all the darkness, you’re going to see that proof, too.”

I highly recommend listening to “Garden Song” while doing something as simple as pouring your morning coffee. The song has a lovely, soft guitar melody throughout and with Bridgers’ delicate vocals, you’re led into believing the simple things she longs for in life is what you long for too. A rose garden, good health, a house up on a hill. She ends her manifestation with the phrase “I have everything I wanted,” speaking the good into existence. 

 

Track #3: Kyoto

Kyoto is a gem. I would probably declare it as one of the best songs to drive to on the entire album. Written on her day off from tour in Kyoto, Japan, this song is a great example of Phoebe’s skills as an honest lyricist. She can accompany the simplest phrases like, “You called me from a payphone - they still have payphones? It cost a dollar a minute” with killer instrumentals and suddenly you’re sitting back and thinking it’s one of the greatest songs you’ve ever heard. 

Full of good vibes and a great line of trumpets, “Kyoto” is perfect for your next road trip adventure. Don’t be afraid to scream out the lyrics and cruise down the highway to this song when you just need to release some energy whether it be good or bad. It was often a go-to in quarantine for me, when I needed to dance around while doing the dishes, imagining I was somewhere else.

 

Track #4: Punisher

We’ve hit the title track! In this song, Bridgers introduces a term that I personally hadn’t heard of before listening to this song. If you were to type the term ‘punisher’ into Urban Dictionary, you’d basically learn that a punisher is a way of labelling a person who talks excessively about one thing with no limit, unaware that the people they are talking to have most likely lost interest. In her Apple Music interview, Phoebe mentions that this song originated as a tribute song to one of her idols, late indie singer Elliot Smith. 

In this song she talks about Smith highly, and admits a fear that many of us probably deep down have, the fear of being a ‘punisher’ herself. She wouldn’t want to turn into one in front of someone like Smith, saying, “I could open my mouth and forget how to talk. Even if I could, wouldn't know where to start, wouldn’t know when to stop.” 

The song is like a confession in a way, sang and played as quietly as one would be uttered. I never knew there was a way to put this fear of being someone like a ‘punisher’ into words until listening to this song. After listening you might just find that you can relate.

 

Track #5: Halloween

Looking for something to get you in a spooky mood? “Halloween” is the track for you. Beginning with an eerie sounding guitar, Bridgers brings up some creepy subjects with this song. Based off of what Phoebe describes as a dead relationship, “Halloween” gives off the same kind of vibes as a love story gone wrong. 

Dark themes are found within the lyrics. One of them being the concept of living by a hospital and being surrounded by ambulances. If you listen close enough, it’s almost like you can hear them in the background next to Bridgers’ haunting lyrics. Although the song has a spooky feel to it, Bridgers does a great job in making you feel somewhat comforted by it all at the same time. While listening to this track, you’re allowed to absorb and process the material she presents to you. You come out of it with a bit of a fresh perspective.

 

Track #6: Chinese Satellite 

There must be hundreds of thousands of songs about religion and questioning it all out there. In “Chinese Satellite,” Bridgers approaches her questions and feelings about religion in her own way, through her own stories. 

She starts at a personal standpoint, singing about herself and what she sees when she looks at the sky, up into the great beyond with the music in the background kind of making you feel like you’re in outer space. In the song, she mentions how she looks up at the sky and doesn’t feel anything. No sense of God or higher power. That she can’t even wish on an evening star, so instead she’ll wish on a Chinese satellite. 

Then she approaches the idea through the lens of a relationship. How she and her partner would mock religious protestors on the street, but from deep down she admits that she would “stand on the corner embarrassed with a picket sign” if it means she could see the one she loves when she dies. The song is blanketed in examples of beautiful vulnerability from Bridgers, as she comes clean about her lack of faith.

 

Track #7: Moon Song

Oh, “Moon Song.” How I’ve been waiting to dive into this one. I will fully admit right now that this is my favorite song on the entire album. I just wanted to let you know, if this section comes off as biased, it’s because it is. I already know that when Spotify comes out with my ‘Year in Review’ for 2020, this song is gonna be at #1. The first 30 seconds of this song, with it’s waltzy rhythm and more vintage sounding production makes you feel as though you’ve been placed inside a romantic movie.

 I immediately thought of a scene from one of my favorite films, It’s a Wonderful Life, where Jimmy Stewart playing George asks his love interest, “What is it you want, Mary? You want the moon? Just say the world and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.”

Sure enough, the darker meaning behind the song still manages to coincide with that same romantic scene. In her Apple Music interview, Bridgers mentions that this song is about loving someone who doesn’t love themself, and trying to show them that she would do anything for them. Just like that movie scene, she sings, “If I could give you the moon, I would give you the moon.” 

This song is like a definition of selfless love and how much of a toll it can take. The exhaustion of pouring your lifeblood into someone to let them know how treasured they are. It became the song my best friend Paige and I would often listen to while we were in her Jeep just to feel something amongst all of 2020’s chaos. I’ll never be able to listen to “Moon Song” without thinking of her, or George and Mary.

 

Track #8: Savior Complex

“Savior Complex” coming on right after “Moon Song” is a brilliant move by Bridgers. This song feels like falling asleep under the stars. And honestly, you could probably use a bit of a rest after the emotional roller-coaster “Moon Song” put you on. You made it off that ride, and this is like Bridgers’ way of telling you to sit back, maybe pour yourself a cup of tea, and relax for a spell. Or at least, that’s what I like to think she meant. 

One of the most exciting musical elements about this song are the gorgeous strings featured on the track. They really take it to the next luscious level, and make so much sense when you discover that Bridgers actually wrote this song in a dream. “I rolled over in the middle of the night and hummed,” she told Apple Music. This song makes me want to drive out to the mountains, set up a little camp and fall asleep while pointing out the constellations. So if that’s the kind of vibe you’re into, “Savior Complex” is the track for you.

 

Track #9: ICU

“ICU” is quite an abrupt vibe change, but in a good way. We’ve gotten through the emotional triple threat that is “Chinese Satellite,” “Moon Song,” and “Savior Complex” all in a row. Time for a fun bop, right? “ICU” in this case does not actually translate into ‘Intensive Care Unit,’ but the phrase “I see you,” having to do with the main tag line of the song, “I feel something when I feel you now.” 

It’s a song all about feeling a certain way about a certain someone. It describes those moments when you haven’t been feeling anything, or have been experiencing a kind of numbness but then suddenly you’re face-to-face with someone who instantly pulls you out of it. With the electric guitar kind of pulsing like a heartbeat, “ICU” makes for a great ‘crush’ song. I remember listening to this song as I was in the car, driving home after getting my first tattoo. Now, I can’t help but associate it with a burst of excitement.

 

Track #10: Graceland Too

“Graceland Too” sounds so different from all the other tracks on ‘Punisher’ and that’s okay because it is so lovely. It sounds like a folky, almost country song as Bridgers brings back in some more strings, throws in a banjo and harmonizes with two special guests - Julien Baker and Lucy Daucus who along with Bridgers make up the musical trio Boygenuis.

In her Apple Music interview, Bridgers admits she wrote this song about an MDMA trip, and that through it all she still circled back to her underlying feeling of a reflection of trying to be there for someone who’s going through something. She throws around the idea of the song being a ‘meditation’ on this subject. This track is also another gleaming example of Bridgers’ strengths as a lyricist. One of my favorite bits being, “So we spent what was left of our serotonin to chew on our cheeks and stare at the moon. She said she knows she lived through it to get to this moment.” 

I lowkey find that there’s nothing like an honest folk song to make you feel more rooted in your life. Just remember that as you listen to “Graceland Too.”

 

Track 11: I Know The End

We’ve reached the end, with “I Know The End.” And what a finale this song is!

I once saw online someone describe this song as an “apocalyptical folk ballad track,” and WOW what a description. I didn’t even know ‘apocalyptical’ was a term until now and it is the perfect word for capturing this song. So thank you, Genius contributor. But don’t worry, it’s not a major bummer or horror story of a song. Well, perhaps when Phoebe quite literally lets out a big ol’ scream towards the end of the track amidst a group of trumpets it gets a little intense, but you’ll survive. 

The song gets going on a heroic sounding build-up halfway through, with trumpets and some faster drum beats. It’s the part of a song where if you’re listening to it in the car, you suddenly want to roll your windows down. Just this time, you’re rolling them down as Bridgers’ sings out some references to America’s culture and her feelings towards some recent happenings. The phrase, “the end is near” pulsating in the background. It is so fitting to the past six months it’s insane. Again, Bridgers knew what she was doing with the release of this album. The timing is just impeccable.

 

So there you have it! This has been my take on ‘Punisher’ wrapped up into one article. I hope you take the time to listen to it, and I hope it makes you feel less alone during this crazy time in our lives. Everything might feel like it’s fading out, but let this album remind you that good music is not.