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Album Review: Punisher

Phoebe Bridgers’s Punisher may not be an album one listens to in order to boost spirits, but it is a collection of songs that are deeply reflective and engaging. The mood of the album is spooky and melancholy, which makes this the perfect album for Halloween, especially considering that there is literally a song entitled “Halloween.” Most of the songs carry a hint of something haunting, whether it be through stories of dead relationships or dead ideals. Bridgers received almost universal praise for her sophomore album and was nominated for four Grammys this year. She has been celebrated for her candid and sharp lyricism, which has drawn in a passionate fanbase.  

The album begins with an instrumental track, “DVD Menu,” that sets the scene for the rest of the album. The menacing guitar and violin instrumentals reappear later in the album and force the listener to confront the darker reality that Bridgers delves into. The next track, “Garden Song,” is a rumination on the past. As one of the most optimistic songs by Bridgers, she sings that her “resentment’s getting smaller.” This is a further theme throughout the album, especially in the next song, “Kyoto,” as Bridgers addresses her relationship with her father. She contemplates the complicated paternal relationship, and moves closer to forgiveness, but acknowledges the numerous complexities in doing so.  

The album also delves into Bridgers’s romantic relationships. In “Moon Song,” one of the most devastating tracks from the album, Bridgers describes how much she would do for her partner, and her self-sacrificial side is revealed. The acoustic guitar creates a bleak and stark atmosphere, and the pain becomes more apparent. The theme of self-sacrifice is apparent in other songs like “Savior Complex” and “Graceland Too,” where Bridgers gives up aspects of herself for her partner. These songs detail the ups and downs of a toxic relationship, and Bridgers is refreshingly self-aware. In “Savior Complex,” she criticizes her partner for wanting to save her instead of addressing their own problems. “Graceland Too” is a banjo-led ballad about caring for someone who is struggling.  

Bridgers has been open about multiple inspirations for her album, including the musician Elliot Smith, whom the song “Punisher” is devoted to. Much of her musical style is based off the artist, and she ruminates that “either I’m careless or I wanna get caught” when it comes to referencing his style. Bridgers also was inspired by extraterrestrial themes, which she explores in various songs. She sings about wanting to believe in something beyond the confines of the physical Earth in “Chinese Satellite” and includes imagery of stars, satellites and UFOs. 

Each track on Punisher addresses deeper issues surrounding childhood, trauma and relationships in a way that is candid and lyrically engaging. Bridgers includes lyrics that are not only heartbreaking, but humorous, singing lines such as “I swear I’m not angry, that’s just my face.” This is the perfect album for celebrating the spooky season, but also appreciating self-growth and change.