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-)

Notes On A Conditional Form // The 1975

Reviewed: 23/05/2020

Rating: 5.5 // 10

Genres: Art-Rock, Indie-Pop, Alternative Rock, Electropop

Released: 22/05/2020, Dirty Hit

The 1975 have finally released the much awaited follow up to A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships – a meandering, confused mess that doesn’t know what to do with itself.

Delayed and pushed back numerous times, the indie-rock darlings from Cheshire were always going to be up against huge expectations. Whilst I wasn’t a huge fan of A Brief Inquiry, the ambition of going for a large concept driven album impressed me.

Whilst avoiding the two year drip feed of single releases, I was still aware of the hype surrounding this album.

However, just like A Brief Inquiry, I’m still quite underwhelmed by the 1975’s end-of-era sound.

Starting off with the staple track the 1975, the band’s signature move; a version has existed on every single LP of theirs. Rather than frontman Matty Healy on vocals, we have Greta Thunberg, via a sample lifted from her now famous ‘Our house is on fire’ speech.

Whilst I admire the reworking, the upholding of tradition and updating it to reflect the current mood, the piece goes on far too long and butchers Thunberg’s speech, omitting the most famous line of it.

I appreciate how it sets up the next track, the punk-rock heavy People, with its closing line of “It’s time to rebel”, but there is a huge contrast in the two songs that is a bit jarring.

People itself sticks out like a sore thumb on the album – by the time it is over, we have a complete tone shift as we enter into The End (Music for Cars).

A symbolic song representing the end of the Music For Cars era, the orchestral instrumental reworking of their own track, HNSCC, is a nice idea, but should have been placed where its name suggests – at the end of the album.

So convinced that this should be the last thing you hear, I have listened to the album with my adjusted tracklist – and the entire flow of the album improves, before culminating with The End.

Alas, I’m restricted to what I’ve been given, and in its current placement, it ruins the flow of the album, and by the time you’ve listened to the next hour of music, it is a complete afterthought.

Again the style of music changes, as we enter into what is the base sound of the project (four tracks in.) Frail State of Mind is a simple electronic based track that continues the sound of ABIIOR, with the same high-pitched distorted sounds in the background. The lyrics are decent, but this starts the meandering, slow paced section of the album.

Next up is the instrumental interlude, Streaming, which ties into The Birthday Party. Streaming is a flute based, orchestral instrumental which flows nicely into Birthday Party, but the fact that it doesn’t match up with Frail State of Mind just means rather than a bridge between songs, we have an extended opening.

The Birthday Party strips back the orchestral sound to a backing track, bringing in some acoustic guitars, for a washed out, laid back vibe. Generally a pleasant song, it doesn’t introduce many new ideas.

Yeah I Know is one of the better cuts on the album, with a driving bass synth, a ticking beat that works nicely together. I really like the sound effects on certain lines, with a whole glitch-pop inspired sound to the track. However, it does drag on, and after the halfway mark, it doesn’t really offer any new ideas.

We receive yet another shift in genre as we enter into Then Because She Goes, which harks back to the bands sound from their first two albums. The guitar is a lot more prominent, and the drums help create a pop-rock vibe.

Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America introduces the reoccurring voice of Phoebe Bridgers, who is given a prominent role in this duet with Healy. Acoustic guitar led, this is one of the more cohesive sections of the album.

I wouldn’t really refer to chemistry between the pair, but the combination of their voices is pleasant and suits that laid-back vibe of the track.

Bridgers remains in the mix on Roadkill, which is probably best described as what a song would sound like if the 1975 were from the South of the US rather than Cheshire. Tongue in cheek, this is one of the brighter moments, giving us probably my favourite lyric of the tracks referring to Healy’s political grandstanding:

And I took shit for being quiet during the election

And maybe that’s fair, but I’m a busy guy

Whilst not rock-and-roll in the strictest sense, this section of the album is the most guitar heavy, more upbeat, and most out of place. Me & You Together is a pop-rock, love song with bouncy drums, this would fit better on the band’s earlier efforts, but overall it is a good song.

The consistent sound is finally broken up with the introduction of new ideas on I Think There’s Something You Should Know. The first instance of house music is brought in, and whilst quite a light influence on this track, it will come back with a vengeance later on. I do appreciate the beat switch on the last stretch of the song.

Nothing Revealed/ Nothing Denied switches things up once more, with a low-fi hip-hop vibe merged with the twangs of acoustic guitar. Piano led, there is initial surprise once the beat kicks in. Overall, with a choir chorus, this miss-match of genres pays off, and it is helped by the raw lyrics from Healy.

Yet again new sounds are brought in, adding to the jumbled mess of multiple genres. Tonight (I Wish I Was Your boy) uses 90’s pop sounds and high-pitched vocals to create my favourite track of the album.

However, despite my personal enjoyment of the song in isolation, it really doesn’t fit the album at all – maybe if all the rock-based cuts were removed, it would share more in common, but it is the most left-field sound on the 22 song LP.

We get deeper into the world of house on Shiny Collarbone, which sees Cutty Rank provide the vocals over a dance driven song. I appreciate the interpolation of It’s Not Living (If Not It’s With You) from their last album, but this is just another random track in a soup of mixed up genres.

Somewhere, underneath their house influences and art-rock tendencies, the original band lurks, and they are brought back to life on If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know). Thematically better suited for ABIIOR, this song covers Healy’s online relationship and getting freaky on camera.

Those bouncing drums return, pop-chord based guitars, and flirty lyrics reminds me of the bands original sound. FKA Twigs features as well, and whilst she isn’t awfully prominent, she adds something to the opening and backing vocals.

Playing On My Mind slows things down, bringing back Bridgers and acoustic guitars. Healy is vulnerable again on this track, but it is also out of place.

Drummer George Daniel is handed the reigns on Having No Head, a six minute instrumental. This adds to the album’s drawn out, meandering feeling, but the production on this track is sensational. Halfway through, the entire energy of the track advances into a house anthem, and for me, it is the best produced song on the album.

House remains in place on the next track, What Should I Say, which also sees FKA Twigs return. Twigs’ almost ethereal vocals lend itself nicely to the flute driven instrumentals.

Bagsy Not In Net is the closest thing we get to a summation of the album; we have another orchestral instrumental, with house themes, but no rock inspired ideas to really bring all the genres together.

The last two songs are the most emotional on the entire project. Firstly, Don’t Worry, is the soul-moving ballad written 30 years ago by Healy’s dad, Tim. The dad and son duo come together to pour their love into this track, originally written by Tim for his wife, Matty’s mother. She was struggling with post-natal depression, and with that context, the lyrics become so much more poignant.

Not the biggest fan of the heavy distortion, the general mood and background of this song is conveyed well enough to make this one of my favourites.

Guys is another one where the context changes how I viewed the song. Almost the counterpart to the band’s previous song, Girls, this one talks about a rarely discussed topic in the industry – straight male friendships.

Made even more poignant by lockdown and isolation, it is a genuinely moving song – which doesn’t fit the house-themed backend of the album.

Whilst I have mostly positive things to say about most of this album, its lack of structure, cohesion and consistency really let it down. It almost could be divided into two albums, but it is an uncomfortable listen in parts, with so much going on and changing, without bring any new ideas to the table.

Track Listing

  • The 1975 (B)
  • People (B)
  • The End (C)
  • Frail State of Mind (B)
  • Streaming (C)
  • The Birthday Party (C)
  • Then Because She Goes (B-)
  • Roadkill (B+)
  • Me & You Together Song (B+)
  • I Think There’s Something You Should Know (C)
  • Nothing Revealed/ Nothing Denied (B-)
  • Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy) (A-)
  • Shiny Collarbone (B)
  • If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know) (A-)
  • Playing On My Mind (C)
  • Having No Head (B)
  • What Should I Say (B)
  • Bagsy Not In Net (C)
  • Don’t Worry (B)