As with any of the recent releases that held any kind of weight in 2020, out of any of the albums that managed to retain a user score above 80, there's always something about them that stands out, a category in which they excel at more than any other and Phoebe Bridgers' "Punisher" could easily hold the title of the most emotional, sorrowful and saddening work from last year.
I'm going to come clean right off the bat, this is one of the few records from last year that, despite being at the top of the user charts, didn't exactly click with me on first listen, and I only noticed that to be somewhat of a trend amongst users as well, I listened to it for the first time and, while I thought it was a great album, it didn’t exactly leave any strong impressions on me, neither did I hold any sort of substantial opinions in relation to it and the more and more I listened to it, the project kept growing and growing on me, each time I kept rewinding that unexpected closer on "I Know The End" I progressively started to notice new details about each song that I wasn't able to pick apart before, the poignance of Phoebe Bridgers' heartfelt performances didn't necessarily touch me deeply at first but the more I ran them back, the more I was sucked into the effort and found myself getting emotionally invested into it.
The instrumentation's minimalism is yet so elaborate and the way that Phoebe Bridgers approaches each song could've easily become tedious if it was reproduced by somebody else, yet there is something just so fascinating about the way she is able to convey her feelings and her personal problems through her music that is honestly astonishing, it is more than a simple folk record, it is nearly borderline poetry and oddly private in its primary bulk, she quite obviously poured her entire heart into this concise 40 minute album in a way that nobody was able to replicate last year, she's quickly hopping from one private topic to another, all while keeping the same theme in check and creating a body of work that weirdly manages to be concomitantly diverse and uniform in its songwriting.
The extremely unembellished instrumental compositions that Phoebe Bridgers lays down on this release perfectly complement the sentiments that she is attempting to channel through her music and they only park the spotlight on her tremendous and stunning vocal performances, that more than being flawlessly executed shine in abundant desolation and melancholy and while she could've just done the same throughout the record's full duration in an unvarying way, there are lots of adaptability shown by either Phoebe Bridgers or the instrumental structures, or in some cases both, in which she is fusing the primary folk aesthetic of "Punisher" with a cheap indie rock application, a blend that only puts forth even further the sensitive nuances of her music.
Despite what's going on in the background, she always manages to capture the listener's attention with her heartbreaking songwriting and powerful vocal performances, the release is not spotty at all at any point, but more than anything else, when going over this record what’s the most important to emphasize amongst all of its components is the superb lyricism, Phoebe Bridgers settles tons of personal issues on display and was even capable of infusing some dark humour into her lines in some of the most private moments of the album, forging "Punisher" into one of the most confidential experiences of 2020.
The immeasurable amount of effort that went into its crafting is indubitable, Phoebe Bridgers had a concept album in her mind and what she set forth was something that was simply a notion about her mental state and her environment and as much as that is nothing too complex, the tragic events that are illustrated are just so moving and to try to tie the work together there's even some sort of endeavour into moulding "Punisher" into a full circle experience, as the haunting textures displayed on its introduction collide impeccably with the bizarre ending of the last track.
Ultimately, there is still one complaint of mine that keeps this album from evolving into a total masterpiece, that being its lack of experimentations, not necessarily expecting that every LP in existence has to be groundbreaking, but in the context of the folk landscape this is undeniably something that doesn't necessarily push the envelope and is disposed as a record that is meant to be taken as a conventional attempt on the genre and, essentially, its main purpose is to drag the listener down Phoebe Bridgers' psyche and have them invested in the troubles that she depicts, not to shake up the genre in itself in a conspicuous way.
It's a record that contains no dull spots from front to back and is absolute unadulterated beauty, virtually an outlet for Phoebe Bridgers' feelings and it excellently exceeds at that, perhaps even transcending it, only failed a bit at meeting my expectations at first, but is assuredly the representation of how you should do folk in a manner that doesn't pass as wearisome.
Favorite tracks: Garden Song, Kyoto, ICU, Graceland Too and I Know The End.
Least favorite tracks: Chinese Satellite.