Intricate intensity. Singer/Songwriter style.
I’m a bit of a late-comer to Phoebe Bridgers, joining the fandom by catching her debut album ‘Stranger in the Alps’ only towards the very end of last year. The upside of that is that I was in time for her 2020 follow up ‘Punisher’. Phoebe straddles the classic singer/songwriter genre with a slice of disinterested Americana. This means that you’ll get all the hallmarks of classic tearjerking rock alongside some rocky anthems too. The overall mood of this album can be summed up in one word. Brooding.
One of Phoebe Bridgers’ trademarks of this album is a warm and gentle electric guitar. It works wonders in the quieter songs like ‘Garden Song’ and the hazy vocoder filled title track. She is able to balance the softer side of these often harsh instruments and weave a song that is designed to disarm you. One of the best examples of this is ‘Halloween’. The drums are muted rumbles. The guitars are more like pizzicato string plucks than chugs. Even the grainy synths which pop in and out of the album feel eerie but rounded. It is a fantastic introduction to Bridgers’ music if you ever needed one.
One of the other things I noticed throughout the album is that Phoebe has some very specific songs structures that she repeats with tiny variations. Certain chords pop up again and again. She likes to climb up and/or down chords like ladders. ‘Chinese Satellite’ is one of the tracks that starts this way and veers off with some beautiful string arrangements but instead, her vocals follow this hilly path. ‘Moon Song’ follows the same style as ‘Punisher’ but crucially both feel different. You’ll hear variations on a four-chord pattern where three rise or fall and the fourth plays on a minor, or a step-down. ‘Saviour Complex’, ‘Graceland Too’, ‘Punisher’ and to some extent the stunning closing track ‘I Know The End’ follows this pattern. This may sound like a criticism but what it actually does is make each song feel familiar and comfortable. Many of the best-loved albums work like this. A case in point is Kate Bush’ ‘Hounds of Love’ that circles the same patterns and chords but in wildly different variations and styles. Whilst ‘Punisher’ isn’t as diverse, it makes the album feel comfortable on the first listen and it lets your guard down. It is difficult to explain but when songs align sonically across albums you start to associate themes, motifs and instruments together with emotions and story points. I’m sure this won’t be lost on Bridgers who relishes in taking a key change when she is making a lyrical point – as if she is throwing another punch to bruise.
Phoebe Bridgers has created a fantastic follow up with ‘Punisher’. It has some tracks that will spark you immediately whilst being full of layers and layers of depth to pour over if you are so inclined. This is easily one of the best singer-songwriter albums of the year and a stunning rock album to boot.
Recommended track: Halloween
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