Ode to Punisher
Even though Phoebe Bridgers wrote “Punisher” in June, it remains not only fresh, but relevant. It feels like the perfect listen for the impending months of seasonal depression with its raw emotions and themes of loss. Pairing these strong themes with beautiful production, calling it an instant classic feels bold but not unfounded.
It opens with “DVD Menu”, a short instrumental song that sets the mood with its melancholic sound. “Garden Song”, which Bridgers has said is about manifesting, continues this mood with its wistful lyrics and muted chords. The song ends with the phrase “I have everything I wanted”, leaving the listeners with a bittersweet feeling of closure. Next is the Grammy nominated track “Kyoto”, a rock song about imposter syndrome. Unlike the other songs, it's upbeat, but still
manages to maintain the previous tone. It effortlessly fades into the next song, “Punisher”, which is more low tempo. The song is about Eliot Smith, specifically feeling like she knows him but being bitterly aware of the fact that if she were to meet him, she “wouldn’t know where to start”. The next song, “Halloween”, takes the album into deeper feelings of melancholy. Being about a dying relationship, it feels like a halfhearted attempt to have fun. It ends with the vocals of Bright Eyes’ Connor Oberst, which come close to feeling out of place but just barely work.
Next is “Chinese Satellite”, which starts out soft but feels like a gut punch when the chorus kicks in. It's a beautiful combination of strings and drums, neither of which obscure Bridger’s
vocal performance as she confesses that while she wants to believe, she just can’t. “Moon Song” is a bittersweet testament to bottling up feelings for someone, and it is appropriately tender. However, the best part of the song is undeniably the outro. “You are sick and you're married and you might be dying,” she sings, “ but you're holding me like water in your hands”. The lyrics, simple and poignant, continue. “When you saw the dead little bird, you started crying but you know the killer doesn't understand”. The next track, “Savior Complex” is soft and dreamlike, which makes
sense considering Bridgers said that it was the one song that came to her while asleep. It’s a sort of sequel to “Moon Song”, about what happens when you finally get what you want and the reality of actually being in that relationship.
“ICU” could easily be the third in a trilogy that also consists of “Moon Song” and “Savior Complex”, but it’s also beautiful on its own; as a classic breakup song. It hits hard, including common last strands of an unraveling relationship in its slew of feelings and regrets. Next is “Graceland Too”,
about a healing self-destructive woman. With the accompaniment of Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, its banjo and harmonies are reminiscent of Bridgers’ Boygenius days. While the country ballad is unlike the other tracks on the album, its use of raw emotion keeps it from feeling out of place, and its soft instrumentation makes for a seamless transition to the final song.
“I Know the End” is a powerhouse. It can be divided into two parts, the first being slow and mellow while the second is ominous and frantic. “Somewhere in Germany, but I can’t place it. Man, I hate this part of Texas,” it begins, evoking feelings of homesickness. As the song progresses,
she sings of rusty swing sets, tornadoes, and sirens. The tone is bleak, and something is looming. Her listeners pick up on what that thing is in the third verse. “Driving out into the sun, let the ultraviolet cover me up” feels like a kamikaze mission, and soon the listeners learn that it just might be one. “No I’m not afraid to disappear,” she sings, “The billboard said “The End Is Near” I turned around, there was nothing there. Yeah I guess the end is here”. Then comes the outro. Phoebe Bridgers repeats the line “the end in here” as the instrumentals surge and there is screaming. The song ends with Bridgers whisper screaming, her voice all but given out.
There is not much of a collective story for “Punisher”, rather it seems to be snapshots of sad moments displayed in a gallery. It is for that reason that “Punisher” is especially relevant now, when feelings of sadness feel amplified among the stressful events of this year. It's a beautiful album from start to finish, and a sure sign that whatever Phoebe Bridgers does next will be amazing.