To say the last few months have been overwhelming would be an understatement. Music has been a nice distraction, but I have been having difficulty digging into any albums. This has been an incredible year for music, but it has been hard to relate to artists when everything feels slightly off in your own world. This changed with Punisher, Phoebe's stunning sophomore release that somehow feels more personal and more organic than her debut. The restless production, the incredible lyricism, the emotional peaks, all these elements work so perfectly together that it feels like an entirely new breakthrough for an artist who has built a career on breakthroughs.
I can't help but think about Apple's Fetch The Bolt Cutters when listening to this album, as I think they are both incredible albums working in different directions. FTBC is almost so impressive that it can feel distant. It is like reading a great work of classic fiction; it is clearly impressive but may not reverberate with your life experiences. Bridgers goes the opposite direction, breathing life into diary-like confessions that are often half-formed and emotionally fraught. On 'Halloween,' Phoebe sings about ambulances waking her up at night. While not changing the volume of her voice, she thinks through her frustrations regardless of how thought out her feelings actually are. Even the songs that have thunderous moments feel like emotions half-formed, trying to escape her mind. The scream at the end of the album broke me. This willingness to delve into unformed feelings is a welcoming way of writing music that only gets more relatable as the songs become more familiar.
The thing that gets me about this album is the production and how the music builds so organically from these rather simple repeating guitar lines. It gives the music constant movement even in the slower songs. 'Chinese Satellite' is a perfect example of this. The song starts so small but keeps growing as Bridgers wishes on false stars. The background instruments feel like they are responding to Bridgers's words, creating a dialogue between herself and her sonic landscape. She manages to charge so much emotion through her guitars and strings that the peaks are cathartic sensory explosions. It is folk music at its best; Bridgers found a way to tell her narratives through her lyrics, instruments, and production in perfect harmony.
Instead of distracting me from the world, Phoebe invites me to feel everything all once. It is a panacea to the constant anxiety, a salve to the sense of hopelessness that is so palpable in 2020. Her secret is to allow her listener to view the frayed edges of her emotions. While challenging to discuss mental health, Bridgers starts the conversation through unbelievable melodies and some of my favorite lyrics I've heard in some time. She has a way of guiding you through her stories heart first. You could delve into each song and take apart the lessons, gushing over each intricate detail Bridgers has constructed. For now, I just want to bask in the warmth of this album. It's music that makes me excited about music.