Phoebe Bridgers
Punisher


3.5
great

Review

by Channing Freeman STAFF
June 19th, 2020 | 1434 replies


Release Date: 06/19/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Phoebe Bridgers' strengths are on full display here. But her weaknesses are starting to show as well.

On her sophomore solo album, following a few side projects and features on several nondescript indie songs, Phoebe Bridgers seems content to let her voice and lyrics do the heavy lifting. She can coast seemingly forever on her strengths, especially considering that many of her fans would probably be happy to hear her sing names from the phonebook. Honestly, I might be, too. She has a fishhook voice against which struggle is futile. She sounds isolated and cold one moment, then parasocially warm the next, like a new friend you can’t quite gauge yet, the closeness thrilling, the distance unbearable. Such a voice is a weapon, and Bridgers uses it wisely. Songs like “Kyoto” and “I Know the End” are given a propulsive energy as she makes the same melodies sound fresh every time she iterates on them, each line both familiar and completely new.

Her songwriting has yet to catch up. Too much of Punisher plods musically, disengaging me even as Bridgers’s voice draws me close. This disconnect plagues the record. "Garden Song" is essentially "Smoke Signals" with slightly more energy and a completely unnecessary guest spot in the chorus. The strong lyrics and tender vocal performance on “Halloween” are offset by the vanilla indie backing music, and the last thing the song needed was a Conor Oberst feature, but he shows up at the end, too. His absence in the early parts of the track are the only thing setting it apart from a middling Better Oblivion Community Center song (that is to say, every BOCC song except for “Chesapeake”). “Graceland Too” is one of the record’s best songs, with major “Cowboy Take Me Away” energy and beautiful accompaniment from her erstwhile boygenius companions Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus. Yet there is nothing to justify the song’s existence on a Bridgers solo record rather than a second boygenius release. Perhaps that seems like a petty criticism since the song is so great, but too often Punisher sounds like indie pastiche, and the guest performances don’t help.

Stranger in the Alps was an excellent debut with a few problems that were excusable from such a young songwriter. Now that we know Bridgers a little better, Punisher feels like a slight step down despite the advances on display. Too many of the songs’ flourishes are really just tricks of production rather than genuine songwriting ingenuity. Her ability to turn a phrase, her gorgeous voice, and her sheer charm can justify a lot, but she needs more than those tricks in her bag to sustain what will hopefully be a long and fruitful career.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Colton
June 19th 2020


3017 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Good review but you didn’t mention the album’s lyrics at all which I think are a huge part of it

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
June 19th 2020


1713 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I didn't quote them but I certainly mentioned that they are a strength

Dewinged
Contributing Reviewer
June 19th 2020


21215 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Infuriated neeka in 3...2...1...

Digging: Hallas - Conundrum

SteakByrnes
June 19th 2020


20707 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I like this more than the debut for sure

Digging: PVRIS - Use Me

proscett
June 19th 2020


48 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

melodies could be stronger but this is pretty darn good

Respawn
June 19th 2020


63 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

phoebe went fucking insane on that last track

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
June 19th 2020


18963 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2 | Sound Off

This is more elusive than the debut, repeated listens reveal more details to the songwriting. I doubt it'll eclipse that one over time but it's possible.

Digging: Gazpacho - Fireworker

GreyShadow
June 19th 2020


4223 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I prefer this album. just took a night walk with it (because even the album cover screams that kind of mood) and this really is a special album. Savior Complex and I Know The End wrecked me

Digging: The Front Bottoms - In Sickness & In Flames

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
June 19th 2020


44015 Comments

Album Rating: 3.4

"His absence in the early parts of the track are the only thing setting it apart from a middling Better Oblivion Community Center song (that is to say, every BOCC song except for “Chesapeake”)"



bad and not good take, y'all gotta move on



agree about the production masking similar songwriting on this though. the stretch from Halloween to Savior Complex is basically the same song in different clothing. Graceland Too is easily the best here

Atari
Staff Reviewer
June 19th 2020


26009 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I Know the End is the best track hands down



everything past the 2:30 mark to the end just floors me

Digging: Disavowed - Revocation of the Fallen

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
June 19th 2020


20292 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

"Infuriated neeka in 3...2...1..."

yeah hooray for Sput tanking the metacritic score of my favorite albums once again

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
June 19th 2020


20292 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

wait how tf is Garden Song anything like Motion Sickness?

JayEnder
June 19th 2020


8065 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Damn this looks good

Digging: Movements - No Good Left To Give

dustandnations
June 19th 2020


340 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I can see the similarities in the chorus melody - the song peaks melodically with the first note of the chorus? Vibe, sentiment, energy, is totally different to me though. Also, I don't see production and songwriting as necessarily different things - or at least, the lines between them are blurred.

Green Baron
June 19th 2020


25095 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

accurate review

Digging: Killing Joke - Brighter Than a Thousand Suns

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
June 19th 2020


20292 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I honestly think he got it mixed up with Smoke Signals or something, who knows

Chan I'm a big fan of your writing and obvs I'm biased here, but this reads as super skin-deep and rushed as a review... but you're staff so I know you have other commitments and gotta get it out in a timely manner so I understand

butt.
June 19th 2020


7865 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

god damn Halloween is so good.

also is that Conor singing at the end??

Digging: Necrot - Mortal

JayEnder
June 19th 2020


8065 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Loving this so far. Title track is a beaut

Lucman
June 19th 2020


4720 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Good review, Chan, especially agree with that last paragraph. I'm hoping this is a slow burn like Stranger was for me, but I think this says it best: "Her songwriting has yet to catch up. Too much of Punisher plods musically, disengaging me even as Bridgers’s voice draws me close." It's just a little pedestrian. If you take away the rich production, which is admittedly beautiful, or if you choose to see through it, most of this is merely good at best and can even be mediocre melodically.

Digging: Carissa's Wierd - Ugly But Honest: 1996-1999

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
June 19th 2020


44015 Comments

Album Rating: 3.4

Graceland Too is about Julien for those of y'all that don't know. takes that song from 'heartbreaking' to 'best Phoebe song' real quick



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