Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Punisher’ album review: a contender for record of the year and it’s only June

  • The alternative singer-songwriter’s release evokes Laura Marling’s lyricism and Arcade Fire’s pent-up energy
  • The follow-up to ‘Stranger in the Alps’ is a near-perfect album
Chris Gillett |
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Photo: AP This cover image released by Dead Oceans shows "Punisher" by Phoebe Bridgers. (Dead Oceans via AP)

We may only be halfway through 2020, but we might have found the album of the year already. Phoebe Bridgers’ second full-length release Punisher is a catalogue of beautifully mellow, evocative, heartbreaking indie folk.

Lead single Garden Song is a perfect example of her artistic range. Muted bass and guitar picking are backed by grainy glitching, as she unwinds the diary-like imagery in her lyrics: “When I grow up/I’m gonna look up from my phone and see my life/It’s gonna be just like my recurring dream/I’m at the movies/I don’t remember what I’m seeing/The screen turns into a tidal wave.”

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The vocoder vocals on the spiralling piano-led title track feel like a blend of the aching gentleness of indie-pop vocalist The Japanese House, and Laura Marling’s refined vocabulary and storytelling.

Bridgers really digs into her subconscious on Chinese Satellite. The reflective refrain, “I want to believe/Instead, I look at the sky and I feel nothing/You know I hate to be alone/I want to be wrong,” floats atop fluttering strings, then becomes a heady mix of erratic, wiry guitar and compressed drums.

There’s a more energetic element to the record, too. Kyoto features upbeat garage-rock stylings, with rising horn blasts creating a jubilant crescendo, while ICU has as much ambition and pent-up energy as any Arcade Fire song, with driving toms and chugging guitars reinforcing this.

Punisher is a perfect example of an artist finding beauty in pain.

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