Punisher // Phoebe Bridgers

Reviewed: 21/06/2020

Rating: 8.5 // 10

Genres: Indie-folk / Singer-Songwriter

Released: 18/06/20, Deep Oceans

Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album highlights a singer-songwriter coming into her own, detailing the influences and questions that impact her music the most.

Despite only being 25 and on her second album, Phoebe Bridgers has worked on two other projects inbetween her two studio albums, boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Centre.

On top of that she also lent her vocals to a few songs on The 1975’s latest project, including the single Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America.

And whilst the band projects she has worked on, including her solo work, are based in indie-rock sounds, the way she moulds herself around collaborators is a real strength of hers.

Punisher is more than a sum of its parts – at times showing a minamilist, stripped back, vulnerable side, others a total outpouring of emotions via overwhelming instrumentals.

It’s no surprise to me that the artist tributed by the titular track, Punisher, is Elliott Smith – the king of emo indie-folk brought to life  with little fanfare or instrumentals. His combination of raw musical and emotions is an apparent influence on the project as a whole. 

However, to pretend that this album is like-for-like, or directly lifted from Smith’s playbook would be disingenuous towards both artists. From the opening interlude track, DVD Music, filled with poetic violins, there is a high – and polished – standard of production. 

With Smith’s self-titled project in mind, part of the charm of that album was the loose and amateur feel to it – but there is a decent budget here, utilised to full effect.

Some of the little details are similar – quite often you can hear the scraping of fingers on the guitar neck that populated Smith’s work, subtle and discreet enough to be charming and genuine, rather than shoddy playing. 

After the almost sinister yet sombre atmosphere generated with the opening instrumental, the first track Garden Song is far more upbeat in nature.

There’s a warmth to the sound, but it also retains the spacious and hollow feeling of the interlude.

The duet during the chorus is so lovely – the deeper male voice, provided by Bridger’s tour manager, offers a lovely contrast and sounds brilliant. The male voice is almost a shadow of Bridgers’ lighter vocals.

Bridgers’ singing on this just seems effortless the entire way through this project – with just enough force behind it when she wants and needs it.

The following track, Kyoto, continues the upbeat trend, with uptempo horns that start of subtle, before slowly becoming more attention grabbing further into the track. Here Bridgers is utilising her voice with different levels of impact, creating an emotional vocal track.

The voice manipulation at the start of Punisher creates an impersonal view, fitting for a track about a person Bridgers never met. Here Bridgers is talking about Elliott Smith, admitting that due to her idolisation of the man, she is a superfan who would talk his ear off if they ever had met.

It’s such an interesting concept to come from someone who is famous themselves – a celebrity who is adored but also adores other celebrities.

Halloween features those minimalist guitars – sounding like just enough pressure and force is being applied to produce the notes needed. There’s some really interesting intstruments chosen here – either a wind-inspired synth or a wind-instrument manipulated in a certain way, which I can’t quite place.

The best I can describe this song is by labelling it as soft yet purposeful.

Chinese Satellite sees Bridgers pine for something to believe in, which to me is such a powerful and interesting topic. Tension builds thanks to the drums, and it feels like we’re going to have a loud burst of sound and energy. However, it is instead translated into some mournful violins, which die down to give way for the percussion once more.

Moon Song eschews traditional song formatting for a very linear take, a straight take on story telling. Here we hear those screeches of the guitar most apparently, with the gentle cymbals in the background. As the song progresses, you can hear the emotion in Bridgers’ voice build.

A simple base of guitars is built upon for Savior Complex, with an array of different instruments operating in the background, softly supplementing the song. For large portions of this project the focus is on Bridger’s vocals and lyrics, and it really is allowed to shine throughout.

The teetering, almost teasing drums and percussion at the start of I See You foreshadows the eventual burst of energy near the end of the song.

Banjo doesn’t always mean a song is country, but the string-fulled atmosphere of Graceland Too draws from the genre. Again there are some subtle production choices, such as the organ synths hidden behind the guitars and violins that really garnish the track as a whole.

The slight manipulation at the start of I Know The End reoccurs throughout as the song whirs to life, a ballad that eventually builds into a semi-orchestral ending for the LP.

You can feel the power building as more instruments are brought in, with horns, heavier percussion and strings really bringing a sense of grandiosity to a fairly minimal project.

It ends in a cacophony of sound and chants, before descending into screams and the raspy, hoarse sounds of a voice that can scream no longer.

Overall Bridgers proves that she can fly solo when needed, work well as a team, use very little to do a lot, or use a lot to make a masterpiece. Truly one of 2020’s best albums so far, and well worth a listen.

Track Listing

  • DVD Menu (B+)
  • Garden Song (A-)
  • Kyoto (A-)
  • Punisher (A)
  • Halloween (B)
  • Chinese Satellite (A)
  • Moon Song (A)
  • Savior Complex (A)
  • I See You (A)
  • Graceland Too (B+)
  • I Know The End (A-)

Deep Down Happy // Sports Team

Reviewed: 16/06/2020

Rating: 7.5 // 10

Genres: Indie-Rock

Released: Date, Record Label

Sports Team are a perfect representation of England in 2020 – Middle Englanders trying to pretend they’re something they’re not. However, their talent shines through their faux-working class lyricism.

Labelling fellow British debutants HMLTD as “the worst band ever” for simply going to a lesser university than their precious Cambridge should tell you all you need to know about Sports Team.

Whilst the band isn’t afraid to poke fun at themselves and the Middle England that formed them, they also aren’t afraid to punch down on those perceived lower than them.

Overall it sounds like the exact type of person Pulp sang about in Common People – whilst also mimicking the delivery of lead singer Jarvis Cocker throughout this project.

However, whilst the paradox of the band’s image and entitlement still stands, this is a solid debut that proves English indie-rock still has legs to it.

The instant energy of Lander gives us a taste of what it is come, and so does the constant change in delivery from Alex Rice. After the frantic start the song slides into calm, before being dragged elsewhere by Rice’s almost manic, frenetic change of pace via his vocals.

Here It Comes Again plays on repetitive verses, choruses and instrumentals to replicate the monotony of Middle Class life. Going Soft is also similarly repetitive and rigidly structured, but that constant change in delivery and inflection from Rice keeps things interesting.

The pacing on this album is spot-on throughout, with no songs really dragging on past their welcome. Camel Crew sees more of the same middle-class struggles dictated, alongside a follow up dig to HMLTD, which comes across as petty and pointless.

This avant garde is still the same

Go to Goldsmiths and they dye their fringes

Just to know they’ve made it only

When they sign the rights to Sony

The song meanders between paces, which is a nice change for a largely straight-played tracklist.

Long Hot Summer is the most understated song on the album, and whilst fairly basic in structure is again a welcome switch-up from other songs on the project. Not quite moaning or making really insightful commentary on society, this is a far more personal song about a relationship, and the subdued tone of it fits nicely.

The following track Feels Like Fun picks the pace up a bit, with almost droning guitars surrounding the chorus. The song really comes in to its own right at the end, with the mayhem inspired ending. The pointed political commentary on this is a bit more vague and metaphoric, compared to the heavy, on the nose lyrics from the next track, Here’s The Thing.

Whilst I find the words on this so blindingly obvious and so tongue-in-cheek it’s ripped through the side of your face, the repetition, bounciness kinda fit in with the basic observations. Definitely fits as a the lead single, the breakdown half way through adds something to what would be a very formulaic song.

The Races paints the clearest picture of any song, detailing the insufferable types you’ll find throughout British life. Self-centred and opinionated, ironically just like the band, it is a common sight at many different events in the UK, and the story it paints is perfectly imaginable.

I’d argue after reaching the mid-point of Here’s The Thin / The Races follows a strong finish, starting with Born Sugar. Rice has a malleable voice, and whilst it can sound heavily influenced by Damon Albarn (listen to most of these songs and you’ll want to shout out Parklife in the lulls) and Jarvis Cocker, the frequency of changes to delivery keeps it entertaining throughout.

Fishing and Kutcher revert to a fusion of 00’s British indie-rock with post-punk vocals, and in the case of Fishing, probably thanks to Matty Healy, who wrote the song and promptly sold it to Sports Team.

Despite the business dealing, the two singers have engaged in light subtweets and mild beef, indicating that Alex Rice is going to be a headline generator from his mouth.

Kutcher‘s instrumentals are the most memorable on the track, and the lyrics regarding Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore are funny yet oddly relatable, and again paints a clear picture.

The closing track Stations of the Cross rounds off the strong finish to an album that gives a good showing of the band. In a scene that has faded to the background in recent years, there is an opportunity to quickly rise to the top of the genre.

Sports Team aren’t quite there yet, but this debut indicates that we will be talking about them and anticipating more music sooner rather than later.

Track Listing

  • Lander (B+)
  • Here It Comes Again (B)
  • Going Soft (B)
  • Camel Crew (B+)
  • Long Hot Summer (B+)
  • Feels Like Fun (B+)
  • Here’s The Thing (A-)
  • The Races (B+)
  • Born Sugar (B)
  • Fishing (B+)
  • Kutcher (B+)
  • Stations of the Cross (B+)