Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher
Jun 18, 2020 (updated Jun 19, 2020)
This morning I woke up at 5am, having a panic attack. At any point I could have probably tried to figure out why, or what caused it, but I didn’t. I just really wanted to get back to sleep. Instead, I decided to try out the new Phoebe record. In a matter of its short run-time, and my brain not being fully awake yet, I feel like I got a lot more than I was expecting.

As someone who was mildly satisfied with Stranger In The Alps, I really hadn’t made my mind up on Bridgers as an artist quite yet. She definitely has a distinct aesthetic to her music. A very hushed delivery over typically subdued folk-inspired instrumentation. It was super calm and relaxing, but that was all it was to me. That was until she released Punisher, where I not only got the album that makes me appreciate Phoebe 10x as much as an artist, it felt like I got a record that was glaring back at me as I listened to it. Making me ponder a lot of little things in my life, making me over-think maybe more than I wanted to right after waking up the way I did.

Still, in many ways I’m happy with the incredibly beautiful and captivating performances on both the instrumentals and by Bridgers herself. On my first two listens it really did feel like I was floating away into a world that felt a lot more fantastical. A little more fantasy driven. A little more ideal.

I think that stems from the overarching themes that songs on this record tackle. Love, identity, and chasing after the things that your brain tells you not to, but your intuition and heart screams otherwise.

In the most complimenting way, this really does sound and behave like a soundtrack to a coming of age film. Phoebe’s lyrics and sound hitting me at a very tumultuous time in my life kind of remind me that something is missing in my life and it’s like I need to get out and go find it myself. No more being caught in the same loop of routine over and over, no more endlessly browsing media to cover up moments of confusion and pain. It’s time to accept what’s happening to me, what’s happened to me, and who I am moving forward. This album strikes a very particular nerve though, one that kind of reminds me especially to be myself. Lyrics like:

“And when I grow up, I’m gonna look up
From my phone and see my life
And it’s gonna be just like my recurring dream” (Garden Song)

“I don’t forgive you
But please don’t hold me to it
Born under Scorpio skies
I wanted to see the world
Through your eyes until it happened
Then I changed my mind” (Kyoto)

Ever since I was a young teen, I’ve tried to suppress who I am. I’ve always had conflicting feelings and memories that fly around my head. I don’t always know what they mean, and because of that and the people around me, I’ve tried to live life in the way that others saw fit, not myself, and it’s because of this that I’ve only recently been able to realize just how little of myself has actually been present in the life I’ve lived so far. In turn, I’ve developed a lot of annoyance and resentment to the people I know in real life. I don’t mind the idea of disappearing anymore, because I’ve tried living how they, people like my Father and peers do, but it just has never been for me. I have a completely separate life waiting for me, and when I listen to Punisher, in so many ways it feels like Phoebe is singing directly out of the book that I feel my life so far has been written.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that I live in a very secluded conservative area. Growing up I was raised in an okay household, my mother was always just doing what she could as a mother and my father was typically working and then blowing money on alcohol. I didn’t really grasp how helpless each of my parents were, though. They’ve tried, and still do try, to incorporate me into a lifestyle that suits themselves, but I always kind of felt like things were different for me. It all started mostly in my young and mid-teens, where I started to feel like I wasn’t just supposed to be stuck in this town forever. That idea scared me though, it wasn’t what I was raised to embrace. So it was around when I was 13-14 that I started an internal monologue, what do I do with myself?

Who am I, then?

That, “recurring dream” line that Phoebe sings comes to mind. While I know she said that the track was mostly about her depersonalizing on tour and struggling with nightmares, I get reminded of recurring feelings that have stirred in me since I was a bit younger that didn’t come to fruition until lately. Feelings like, not being that straight, “normal” son that my parents expect, or being the first person in my family to chase after the things I’m passionate about. These are feelings that I’ve come face to face with as of late that remind me just how much of myself has been lacking in my life. Now that I acknowledge these feelings, I feel so much more in control of myself. It feels good to feel like you know yourself.

Lyrics like:

“I hopped the fence when I was seventeen
Then I knew what I wanted” (Garden Song)

“I've been running around in circles
Pretending to be myself

Why would somebody do this on purpose
When they could do something else?
Drowning out the morning birds

With the same three songs over and over

I wish I wrote it, but I didn't so I learn the words

Hum along 'til the feeling's gone forever” (Chinese Satellite)

They speak to that monotony that occurs when you’re stuck out of your body, spectating life itself. Trying to suck the life out of every new feeling that you can in order feel something for yourself. Lyrics like that which really speak to a level of authenticity the album permeates.

They remind me of when I first stumbled upon the concept that I didn’t have to live to the limits of my environment, and recently it’s because of that, that I’ve been able to understand more of what my feelings and dreams meant when I was younger. I have a better idea of the things I want in life as a person.

In contrast to the ideas of self discovery and that entire journey, however, there is an entire other half this album has. A side that deals with love and the sense of wanting to belong to someone else no matter the circumstance. Which, the way these things are written by Phoebe, is ultimately what makes me feel a deeper connection to this album. She writes lines about feeling things for someone who might not even know that she exists. The feeling that you feel like you know someone you haven’t met; It’s strange, but from what I’ve taken from those feelings when they occur is that they are often formative moments in life. Sometimes you might just see someone and you get a funny feeling in your stomach or your head. Your dreams tend to wander, and in turn your heart might steer you towards trying to find ways to recapture that feeling, such as finding a sense of belonging to another person or a sense of belonging to a group of people, or to a home of some sort. It’s like that random motivation you might get at 2am that makes you wanna change your life around, but it feels too late.

“I'm thinking out loud

I've been playing dead my whole life

And I get this feeling whenever I feel good
It'll be the last time” (I See You)

Sometimes I imagine that it’s impossible to capture that feeling again, though. Sometimes it’s easy to think that all life can be is just chasing that feeling of satisfaction in the form of something. At a young age, it might seem like you can only imagine the feeling of being content. You’re stuck being patient, stuck being irritated by unwanted responsibility, and stuck waiting for your heart to push you in a direction that finally feels right. That’s a struggle that I’ve been slipping out of recently, and yet its so prominent when I try to dissect this album.


“Close my eyes, fantasize

Three clicks and I'm home

When I get back I'll lay around

And I'll get up and lay back down
Romanticize a quiet life

There's no place like my room” (I Know the End)

By the end of the album, it feels like Phoebe encompasses this emotionally challenging transition into a new chapter of her life. In many ways, I feel like I can cry and cling to what she’s saying. It feels basked in pain and hatred at times, but underneath the melancholic melodies and whispery vocals is a beating heart. One that is still young and trying to live through so many different feelings and experiences. It’s scared, but it’s ready to keep moving forward.

Overall, Punisher is one of the more emotionally challenging records to come out this year. Absolutely fantastic, and I’m super excited to see what else Phoebe comes out with in upcoming years. Praying she stays healthy and well in that time too, given how much struggle she seems to talk about on this album.

- Favourite Tracks -

* Garden Song
* Kyoto
* Chinese Satellite
* I See You
* I Know The End
Jun 19, 2020
This was a beautiful review for a beautiful album.
Jun 19, 2020
great review.
Jun 19, 2020
Amazing review!
Jun 21, 2020
Gorgeous write-up! I love it
you're a really good writer, good at evoking emotion and making me feel more passionate about a record!
Jun 30, 2020
This is so lovely! I love when personal meaning takes the rein's in someone's review; that's how all music should be enjoyed, ideally. Also glad to see the "recurring dream" verse getting recognition, it's so beautiful and my favorite part.
Oct 19, 2020
Just listend to this album today, and this was beautifully written. Thank you for putting my feelings into words.
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