“Punisher” review: the stunning and heartsick album

Phoebe Bridgers’ “Punisher” is no sophomore slump. The artist uses imagery as her weapon throughout the album, creating a masterpiece of destruction, death and intensity. Photo submitted by Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers is a master of destruction. The 25-year-old Los Angeles native writes music that captures moments soaked in angst, disguising heartsick lyrics with her delicate vocals. Bridgers is one of those songwriters whose songs haunt the listener, with her music resonating heavily in the hearts of those who listen. 

Recently, Bridgers gained immense popularity through her second album, “Punisher,” receiving four Grammy nominations for Best New Artist, Best Alternative Music Album, Best Rock Album and Best Rock Performance for her hit single “Kyoto.” Before the 2021 Grammy’s, Elton John tweeted that he would “hit someone” if Bridgers did not win.

“Punisher” takes listeners down a winding path, breaking their hearts as the album goes on. Each song tells a different story, alluding to several personal anecdotes and specific scenarios from Bridgers’ life. 

One of the first songs on the album, “Garden Song,” displays soul-crushing lyrics and mesmerizing synths. Bridgers described the song to Zane Lowe as being about “growing up and falling in love and murder,” enriched by surrealist, magical elements. 

Photo submitted by Phoebe Bridgers

Other songs reflect these surrealist ideas as well. For example, the album’s title track details Bridgers imagining herself chatting with one of her songwriting idols, Elliott Smith, discussing the house where he died and the heart he had for his fans. 

She uses infectious lyrics such as “I love a good place to hide in plain sight” to describe the feeling of walking alone late at night in a drug store. She then goes on to say, “what if I told you I feel like I know you, but we’ve never met,” alluding to Smith passing before she could meet him.

The song “Graceland, Too” also highlights themes of death and trauma. The song opens with the line, “no longer a danger to herself or others, she made up her mind and laced up her shoes.” 

Through this song, Bridgers uses the story of a tattered, traumatized woman to highlight the trials and tribulations of trauma recovery. With lyrics such as “she can do anything she wants to,” Bridgers perfectly builds the feeling of having no idea where to go or what to do while being satisfied with one’s life. 

The simplicity of “Punisher” speaks. Bridgers captures the everyday figments of life with a desolate smirk. 

Lyrics like “I hate living by the hospital, the sirens go all night” come across as sarcastic complaints before swerving their focus to highlight the inevitability of death with lyrics such as, “I used to joke that if they woke you up, somebody better is dying.” Bridgers’ talent is that she can take something as terrifying as death and brush it off as a casual bit of conversation. 

Bridgers features several artists with the same emo-folk, indie songwriter vibes throughout the album, such as Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus. Bridgers became acquainted with Bright Eyes as a middle schooler, and the band continues to be one of her all-time favorites. 

On the podcast “X on Y,” she stated that the band creates “music that grows up with you,” which Bridgers also aspires to make. Working with Oberst was the opportunity of a lifetime. 

Bridgers has collaborated with Oberst, Dacus and Baker through Better Oblivion Community Center and Boygenius. These collaborations aid to the nightmarish but raw feeling of the music. 

“Savior Complex,” the 8th song on the album, constructs the story of dating someone who hates themselves, alluding to a relationship with a damaged person. Bridgers builds this narrative through lyrics such as “baby, you’re a vampire, you want blood, and I promised.” 

The “savior” character in the song diverts an abundance of energy to their broken lover. However, Bridgers portrays this as just a coping mechanism to deal with their own emotions and problems. 

Key Notes, an interactive music analysis podcast, discussed “Savior Complex” in a recent episode. Key Notes used “Savior Complex” as an example to describe what is known as “the perfect chord.” 

It is not an exaggeration to say that “Moon Song” is one of the saddest songs on the album. Through this song, Bridgers discusses the agony of one-sided love. In the chorus, it is apparent that Bridgers is heartbroken as she sings, “If I could give you the moon, I would give you the moon.” 

In this song, Bridgers explains that loving this person is like “a dog with a bird at your door.” The one-sided lover, represented by the dog, doesn’t understand why the gift is not appreciated. Neither does Bridgers when she gives everything she has to someone who doesn’t feel the same way. 

Phoebe Bridgers creates music for those who appreciate the dissection of everyday life. For the people who can romanticize even the idea of eating a sleeve of saltines on the floor. However, this album can also easily transition from the mundane to the grand and fantastic. 

Bridgers closes the album with “I Know The End,” a song that alludes to the end of the world. The song builds and builds, discussing topics such as alien spaceships and government conspiracies. 

The end of the song is chaos. As drums crash, guitars blare and violins screech, Bridgers screams at the top of her lungs to complete the chaotic moment of rock perfection. The song is teeming with this looming feeling of anxiety, chaos and destruction, which wraps up the album in an insanely brilliant way.

“Punisher” anatomizes such a broad and wild range of topics, from drug trips to long car rides to sex to relationships. This album perfectly grasps reality in a beautifully direct sense, and Bridgers does it so effortlessly.