(photo by Frank Ockenels, PR)
The past few years have seen the rise of numerous young and gifted artists, all faced with trying to stand out in their crowded field. Very few have distinguished themselves as well and as compellingly and in such a short period of time as Los Angeles native Phoebe Bridgers. Because of her versatility, pigeonholing Bridgers into any one style or genre is virtually impossible.
Her acclaimed debut album, Stranger in the Alps (from 2017), labelled her as an emo-folk-rock singer and songwriter, but the projects that followed made categorizing her work an exercise in futility. In 2018, Bridgers teamed up with fellow up-and-coming singer-songwriters Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus to form the trio Boygenius. Their self-titled debut EP was issued that same year. A few months later, Bridgers and Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst announced that they had formed a new band, Better Oblivion Community Center, and their self-titled album emerged at the beginning of 2019. In addition to her roles in these two bands, Bridgers has collaborated with the likes of Lord Huron, Mercury Rev, Matt Berninger, Ethan Gruska and the 1975. Bridgers also produced the recently released album, Beginners, by Christian Lee Hutson.
Now it’s time for her second solo album, Punisher. Bridgers, who turns 26 next month, delivers songs that are somber and disconnected while dealing with sorrow, depression, desperation and inner turmoil. The melodies range from frail, like on the fractured “Garden Song;” mysterious, as in “Chinese Satellite;” pounding, like in “I See You;” and country-ish, as in “Graceland Too,” which utilizes banjo and fiddle.
The downcast vibe that is prevalent through most of the album is broken by the breezy power pop of “Kyoto,” a song which was based on a visit Bridgers took to Japan. “Punisher,” which provides the album its title, is inspired by her affinity for the late indie singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. In it, she takes on the guise of an overzealous fan or a “punisher," a term used by musicians to describe fanatical fans.
Tony Berg and Ethan Gruska, who were present on Stranger in the Alps, co-produced Punisher with Bridgers. The album was recorded intermittently over a period of a year and a half in 2018 and 2019 at Sound City Studios in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. A number of Bridgers' contemporaries lend a hand on Punisher. Baker and Dacus, her Boygenius bandmates, sing on “Graceland Too” and “I Know The End.” Oberst, the other half of the Better Oblivion Community Center, also provides backing vocals on “Halloween” and “I Know The End.” Legendary drummer Jim Keltner, Hutson, Blake Mills, Bright Eyes’ Nathaniel Walcott, Sara Watkins, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner and many others also make appearances.
Bridgers has already made an indelible mark on contemporary music and Punisher goes a long way in reinforcing the fact that she is a songwriter of intense and passionate depth, capable of crafting melodies that are tender and delicate, while displaying the strength and resiliency that supports her honest and heady lyrics.