I have already listened to Phoebe Bridger’s Punisher four times. I listened to it on my computer while working. I listened to it with headphones while I was just sitting and absorbing it. I listened to it while driving while blaring it in my car. I listened to it as I was falling asleep and OK I missed some of it because I dozed off. I guess this means that, spoiler alert, I really like it. In fact, I may just love it. Punisher is far from punishing, even when it can gut you lyrically from time to time.
To be fair, I expected to like this album. I really enjoyed Bridgers’ first album Stranger in the Alps. I dug the boygenius album and the Better Oblivion Community Center album. However, while I am definitely a Bridgers fan, I didn’t considered myself a particularly strong supporter. There are songs on Stranger in the Alps I absolutely adore, and songs I’ve maybe listened to twice. It’s an album of highs and lows. I thought Punisher might be the same.
To a degree, it is. The difference is that this time the lows aren’t as low, and they are less frequent. The album also has a cohesion to it I think really works. On Better Oblivion Community Center, Bridgers and Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes, collaborated. Oberst plays a role in Punisher as well. That makes sense to me, as this album has major Bright Eyes vibes. It’s like an amalgamation of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and I’m Wide Awake, it’s Morning. If I was still 17, this would make this the best album of my life. Instead, it’s a great album and one of my favorite of the year.
Bridgers has a great voice, and she is a distinct lyricist. This is both a strength and weakness. Her songs feel intensely autobiographical, and that doesn’t always work. Sometimes her lyrics feel like diary entries. Sometimes she sings a line so personal to herself that I think, “How is this supposed to resonate with anybody but you?” Then, of course, for every time one of her lines fall flat to me there are three I just love.
Bridgers’ songs also aren’t always the most sonically dynamic. While her voice is beautiful and emotionally rich, some of her songs just feel like she’s strumming and singing. Those songs are fine, but they are hard to love. As opposed to more lush offerings like “Kyoto” and “I See You.” In fact, I feel like “Kyoto” is her finest song, and perhaps the best song of the year.
I mentioned the fact that I have listened to this album four times in less than a week is because I realized I loved this album due to the fact I did that, as opposed to doing that because I realized how much I loved the album. Punisher is a real step forward for Bridgers. She is a musician that feels like she puts herself wholly into every song. It’s a big risk to take. Thankfully, it has paid off.