With her second solo effort, Phoebe Bridgers deals with complicated emotions in an apocalyptic world and reminds us all that we are not alone.
The apocalypse is upon us. We are collectively trudging through a dystopian nightmare. Cities burn while their citizens are pushed further and further apart by a gaping chasm created by a broken political system. In this environment it is easy to feel insignificant. It’s easy to turn inward and wrestle with the questions of “does anything I do really fucking matter?” “If this really was the end, what have I actually contributed to the world?”
Existential dread, anxiety, a sense of impending doom. These are all things that dance underneath the surface for some of us and constantly stampede the brains of others. With the current state of the world however, these feelings are raging to the forefront for people more than ever before. With constant reminders of our mortality floating around us in the form of a deadly virus, how could these intrusive thoughts not occupy all of us at one time or another? It seems to be the only thing we all have in common anymore.
The good news for all of us is that Phoebe Bridgers knows the end. She is able to articulate the darkness. She is our tour guide through these trying times. Punisher, Phoebe’s second solo album serves as a perfect soundtrack to the colossal panic attack that has been 2020. With her superb song writing and thoughtful instrumentation, she has an uncanny ability to make uncomfortable self realizations, discontent with your surroundings, and waves of sadness sound gorgeous. Her music makes it all a bit easier to stomach.
From the very first note that rings through Punisher on a track titled “DVD Menu” we are levitated into the dreamy yet somber world that Phoebe has created. The strings set a tone that sounds like it could be the score to a James Wan film (he directed Saw and The Conjuring for all of the non movie nerds).
From here the album melts into “Garden Song”, one of the leading singles off of the record. Phoebe flaunts her flair for weaving dark themes, humor, and deeper meanings into her lyrics. She uses the act of murdering a skinhead and burying him in her garden as a metaphor for fighting off negative thoughts and achieving your dreams. It’s bat shit crazy, it’s layered, it’s poetic, it’s everything a Phoebe Bridgers’ song always is.
The album continues with themes of always wishing you were somewhere else (“Kyoto”), becoming something you hate (“Punisher”), and caring deeply about someone who hates themselves (“Moon Song”). All things that Phoebe’s listeners can painfully relate to in one way or another. That is the strength of this album and Phoebe’s music in general. She opens up a space in our heads to allow us to sort through our baggage, all while reminding us that we aren’t the only ones going through shit. She’s right there with us.
A standout track that is particularly powerful in conveying its message is “Chinese Satellite”. A song that deals with Phoebe’s lack of faith and how that relates to feelings of insignificance. In an interview with Apple Music she explained the meaning behind the track:
“If I’m being honest, this song is about turning 11 and not getting a letter from Hogwarts, just realizing that nobody’s going to save me from my life, nobody’s going to wake me up and be like, ‘Hey, just kidding. Actually, it’s really a lot more special than this, and you’re special.’ No, I’m going to be the way that I am forever. I mean, secretly, I am still waiting on that letter, which is also that part of the song, that I want someone to shake me awake in the middle of the night and be like, ‘Come with me. It’s actually totally different than you ever thought.’ That’d be sweet.”
Punisher culminates with an apocalyptic folk rock ballad titled “I Know The End”. It captures the recent bleak state of our world perfectly. In the song we find Phoebe driving into the sun looking for some sign of hope but only finding “a slaughterhouse, an outlet mall, slot machines, fear of god.” A world in which “not even the burnouts are out here anymore” is depicted. She sings, “No I’m not afraid to disappear. The billboard said, The End Is Near.” The album then ends with a guttural scream that slowly fades into a hoarse whisper.
As the saying goes, art imitates life. That is particularly true with music. Punisher is a shining example of how an artist can capture the feeling of a particular moment in time. A time where a lot of us need an outlet. Where the stressors of the world are weighing heavier than any of us have ever experienced. Stressors that are magnifying the difficulty of dealing with our own emotions. Fortunately we have artists like Phoebe to take our hand and navigate us through the end times. Punisher is a true reminder of just how important music can be.