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Review: Phoebe Bridgers Punishes Us Prematurely With Her Brutal, Sonically-Rich Followup

Updated: Jan 19, 2021


Although scheduled for a normal Friday release on June 19th (tomorrow), Phoebe Bridgers brought us a mid-summer surprise one day early, dropping her highly-anticipated sophomore album Punisher on all streaming platforms.

Following up her acclaimed 2017 debut album Stranger in the Alps, Dead Ocean’s newest release delivers 11 sharp tracks overflowing with lyrical and melodic tang. Washed-out synths, buried kick drums, and heavily-panned folk-guitar plucking dominate the sound of an album where Bridgers appears skeletal, both conceptually and literally:

Phoebe Bridgers' Punisher via Dead Oceans

Punisher is a scary, overtly revealing album caked with industrial sounds from the apocalypse. Bridgers knows how to make us worry for her and all of us with her now-copied strain of emo-folk rooted in the acoustic tradition. Only this time she draws upon all influences, from The Avett Brothers banjo/strings balladry on “Graceland Too” and the Nine Inch Nails-like roaring at the climax of “I Know The End” to the orchestral interludes heard in the album’s opener “DVD Menu,” which could have landed on a Manchester Orchestra record.

Bridger’s songwriting and studio excellence shine most on the tracks already released; singles “Garden Song,” “Kyoto,” and “I See You” were rightly chosen as the three singles to proceed the album, but standout tracks also include the expansive “Chinese Satellite” and the harrowing, memorable “Halloween,” featuring frequent collaborator Conor Oberst.

In an interview with Stereogum, she recalls the songwriting process and the meaning behind "Halloween":

Conor was like, “Well you always talk about the murders at Dodgers Stadium.” Fans killing each other. It’s always been this obsession of mine — well, I guess, murders in general are such a dark obsession but that one specifically. It’s so dark, that most people just want to have a hot dog and watch a game but people are so worked up that they can kill someone who doesn’t agree with them. About a fucking sport. So he was like, “You should put that in the song,” and I was like, “No way, that’s way too dark. Come on.”

Joining her Better Oblivion bandmate for this effort include boygenius collaborators Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blake Mills, and Bright Eye’s Nathaniel Walcott.

This followup gives fans answers to which sonic trailhead that Bridgers is blazing while avoiding the pigeonhole of the female singer-songwriter with the tender bluebird voice. Even in her softest, simplest moments, Bridgers treats the melancholy part of us that needs to hear the decadently-textured, eerie songs about death, desperation, and despondency indebted, but certainly not beholden to the emo-folk tradition.

Punisher is out today via Dead Oceans, with selected tracks right here on Inhailer Radio.


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