Punisher Review


Image via Vox

Gwendolyn Woods, Editor

Phoebe Bridgers, a 27-year-old musician writes about beautiful detailed moments when nothing goes right, lovers don’t love you back, nowhere feels like home, as well as deep emotions revolving around loneliness, religion, and love. Punisher came out Spring of 2019 at the beginning of the covid-19 outbreak, this is ironic because of the dystopian feel of the album. Though this is only Phoebe Bridger’s 2nd released album, she has already become popular amongst the indie rock/pop community, with her light soothing voice along with the angelic sounding instrumentals. Bridgers depicts a dark, almost haunting scenery in her songs as well as dreamy and storybook-like imagery. Haunted houses, skeletons, Snow White, murders, Halloween, and vampires are all things that are mentioned in her songs, which all create the aesthetic and vibe of the album.

“DVD menu” the first track on the album is a beautiful instrumental that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The instrumentals sound similar to the one you may hear on a DVD player before a movie/video starts hence the name, and is an interesting and intelligent way to start the album. Phoebe’s writing is honest and self-aware, she talks about feelings and emotions that many artists are too afraid to express, which is another reason why she has such a big and loving fan base. “Moon song” which is known to be one of the most emotional songs on the album, is a ballad that is based at a birthday party. This song follows the idea that she would do almost anything for her partner, even give them the moon if she could. This follows the theme of giving up oneself for the benefit of others, which is also seen throughout the songs “Savior Complex” and “Graceland Too.” It is a heartbreaking song about loving someone more than they could ever love you. This song brings up the dog with a bird motif that will reappear in “I Know The End,” which is the last song on the album. “So I will wait for the next time you want me / like a dog with a bird at your door,” this simile in “Moon Song” describes the way a dog will bring a dead bird to its owner as a gift though it is disgusting and unnecessary to its owner. Phoebe compares this to the way that she gives her lover a gift of love that is seen as meaningless and unwanted. In “I Know The End” the lyrics read “And when I call, you come home / A bird in your teeth.” She relates this particular dog with a bird motif to her ex coming back after a breakup trying to show off all the ways he has changed, ready to jump back into a relationship, similar to a dog showing off something that it killed. 

In the album, Punisher Phoebe has multiple themes and correlations throughout the songs. In the song “Halloween” Phoebe brings up the idea of being a pretender and hiding both physically and emotionally. “When you’re drinking and you’re wearing a mask,” this lyric has a dual meaning, people on Halloween are physically wearing a mask as they are oftentimes dressing up in honor of the holiday. These lyrics also touch on how when you are drinking you can sometimes start to become someone you are not, almost like you are wearing an emotional mask, covering up the true person you are. Halloween brings up multiple different themes within the song that are brought up in other songs such as being a pretender and doing anything for the person you love, even if it is a dead relationship that seems to be going nowhere such as in the song “Moon Song.” The following song on Punisher following “Moon Song” is the heart wrenching, soul-sucking “Savior Complex.” Much like the name “Savior Complex” describes Bridger’s ups and downs of relationships dealing with her personality. Someone with a savior complex by definition is a person who only feels good about themselves when helping others. Phoebe expresses that she only feels comfortable in relationships when she is helping her significant other. “All the bad dreams that you hide/show me yours, I’ll show you mine” bad dreams in the specific lyric is a metaphor for her partner’s baggage that they may carry, so desperately wanting to know theirs and for them to know hers. Later in the song, Phoebe sings, “Baby you’re a vampire/You want blood and I promised/I’m a bad liar” showing how her lover sucks the life out of her, leaving her with nothing. This is a clear theme in Punisher, giving your partner everything and them giving nothing in return. Through these songs, Phoebe sets a tone and feeling that is relatable to her fans. She writes these deep, intense songs that truly make the listener engaged and almost in awe.

Another theme in Punisher is religion. Phoebe expresses that she is unsure and almost afraid of the idea of god. “Chinese Satellite,” the 6th track on the album is an amazing example of this. The song starts with the lyrics, “I’ve been running around in circles/pretending to be myself/why would somebody do this on purpose?/when you could do something else?” This specific lyric shows that Phoebe is unsure of herself. Religious people usually have faith in their identities, believing that there is some sort of higher power dictating their life. “Running around in circles,” is an important lyric, proving that all things in life are performative in some way. Even if it has nothing to do with religion, society tells people to behave a certain way, look a certain way to fit into society’s norms. Sadly, most people find themselves changing their identities to fit into what is seen as “right.” Even Phoebe finds herself falling into this, as everyone does, and that makes her question her own identity. Since this song is about how Phoebe presumably has “no faith” you see this in the lyric, “took a tour out to see the stars, but they weren’t out tonight,” this could be a metaphor for how she tries to believe in things such as religion and spirituality, but cannot. Following that she sings, “Want to believe/ Instead, I look at the sky and I feel nothing.”  This just further expresses her wish to believe in spirituality, thinking it would be easier to deal with grief and hardships if she had some sort of faith that it happened for a reason, or there is a “gods plan” that it’ll get better. Though Phoebe wishes there is some sort of god, she knows that there isn’t, this belief caused Phoebe to become extremely lonely.

Phoebe’s music is inspired by the musical 90s legend Elliott Smith, who also wrote amazing lyrics with intense background instrumentals. Phoebe’s 4th song on the track list “Punisher” is almost a written letter to Elliott Smith which proves her deep love for him and his music, proving how influential it was for her. Phoebe grew up in Silver Lake, California, just a couple of towns from where Elliott made his final home. She sings about seeing him everywhere as well as imagining conversations with him where she tells him that she knows him. In “Punisher” she calls herself, “a copycat killer with a chemical cut” following that that she states, “Here everyone knows you’re the way to my heart / I hear so many stories of you at the bar,” these lyrics are crushing especially because Elliott died when Phoebe was just 9 years old in 2003, due to suicide. 

Though at times Phoebe Bridgers’ lyrics seem to be very lonesome many people helped work on this album. People such as Conor Oberst, who is the lead of the amazing band Bright Eyes and is Phoebe’s bandmate of Better Oblivion Community Center. Phoebe also has people such as Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker doing background vocals on songs such as “Graceland Too.” She also worked with Christian Lee Huston and Blake Mills whose album she helped produce in early 2020. Phoebe builds a community within her music, which only makes it better! Incorporating other voices and lyric writing helped build Punisher to be what it is today, an amazing emo-folk album. Everyone that has listened to Punisher understands that Phoebe Bridgers has a bright and exciting future ahead of her. While listening to the album one knows that they will never be alone with these overly emotional feelings because they will always have the comfort of the 11 heart-wrenching songs. Punisher ends with the powerful lyrics, “Either way, we’re not alone / I’ll find a new place to be from”, no matter where Phoebe takes us with her next musical journey we will not be disappointed and we surely will not be alone.