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-)

I Love The New Sky // Tim Burgess

Reviewed: 26/05/2020

Rating: 0.6 // 10

Genres: Pop-Rock, Singer-Songwriter

Released: 22/05/2020, Bella Union

Tim Burgess combines imaginative lyrics and interesting sonic ideas before stretching them out beyond their need across an incohesive project.

After four solo LPs and 13 as frontman of The Charlatans, Tim Burgess has covered many different sounds to varying degrees of success. On I Love The New Sky he replicates this – by cramming as many ideas into songs as possible.

When it pays off, it is a delight to listen to, before it is dragged beyond its welcome. On other cuts, the clash of styles becomes too much, such as the more industrial noises on The Warhol Me.

Luckily, one of the better cuts comes right at the start. Empathy For The Devil has a poppy feel to it, bouncing along its relatively abstract lyrics. There is so many elements to this song – the synths over the breakdown, the violins added deep into the song, somehow works.

However, the upbeat track slowly loses its charm as it continues past the three minute mark. Sweetheart Mercury features a more electro vibe, with slight manipulation of the voice and other synth based elements.

The light hint of bongo in the background is a nice touch, but as Burgess hardly changes his tone of voice throughout the project, it again becomes stale and goes on too long.

Comme D’Habitude introduces us to a more jazz-based feel, in a quite laidback track. The high-pitched backing vocals on the chorus come across as childish, but the piano in general, and the added jazz elements such as the saxophone after the breakdown are more than welcome.

Sweet Old Sorry Me is a slug to get through, offering nothing really of note or anything new. By now you can hear the formula for songs – begin with an idea, play it out for two minutes or so, feature an interesting breakdown that breaks up the monotony of the track, before dragging it out even further.

On The Warhol Me Burgess draws elements of industrial music, with an obnoxious whirring that fades in and out of each ear, much to the detriment of the track. The throbbing synths over a relatively normal pop-rock piano and guitar combo is nice idea, but that high-pitched screech detracts so much from it. Lyrically Burgess is at his most enjoyable, preaching:

“I see colours you can’t see,

The Warhol me,

Burning round the city,

The Warhol me,

I’m making entries in my diary,”

The industrial noises take us out of the song, but once more we are subjected to far too much of it. Whilst I’m a fan of pieces that use ambient sounds to close out songs, the near two minutes we receive (out of five and half) is far too much. I will give credit to the flow into the next track, Lucky Creatures.

The whirring noises give way into almost a marching drum beat, serious and sinister in tone, which itself disappears into a relaxed, jazzier pop-rock track.

That quick build up of tension and release comes off really well – because in contrast to the rest of the album, it is an idea executed well and swiftly. Overall, a good song.

The Mall has an almost twinkle to it, thanks to the piano and chimes. On this track we finally get some proper variation in delivery and tone, with luscious backing vocals and violins layered over the chorus.

The vocals match the music so well, and for me, this is a standout moment on the album. The synth breakdown matches well with an electric guitar solo, and whilst on the slightly longer side, it doesn’t feel as drawn out.

This section of the album is the most cohesive, with the lounge music style seeping in. The high hat and kicks are utilised more than ever, running into Timothy.

Whilst I couldn’t really identify a running theme throughout apart from this being about Burgess (for the most part), it becomes a bit clearer on this track, as it highlights his thinking process and thoughts.

If that is the theme, I’d argue it isn’t carried out in full throughout.

Timothy itself is very much like The Mall, except not as deep in its production. Same formula, with a synth breakdown again. There are a few backing vocals on this track, and a bit of light voice manipulation, but after the highlight of The Mall, it kind of falls a bit flat. Not a bad track though.

Only Took A Year returns to a guitar based sound, but overall, it is a tad forgettable and repetitive. Again over the four minute mark, and not much to show for it.

The next track, I Got This, involves more sounds, with the shakers and organs over a subtle bassline really building into something nicely. The backing vocals are more stand out as well, thanks to being offset with Burgess’ voice. However, lyrically, it is the most basic and his delivery is one-note throughout.

The penultimate song, Underlow is a slower ballad, which again features a synth-based breakdown to break up what is a completely repetitive song.

Finally, Laurie is closest to classic pop-rock, with multiple guitars and piano joined by a synth that sort of highlights the end of a line. The breakdown hardly features much change, and as a whole, this track is a replica of that style outlined above. After a decent start and stronger middle, the ending is underwhelming.

Overall, there is enough interesting ideas on here to listen to, but its replay-ability is questionable.

Track Listing

  • Empathy For The Devil (B+)
  • Sweetheart Mercury (C)
  • Comme D’Habitude (C+)
  • Sweet Old Sorry Me (C-)
  • The Warhol Me (C)
  • Lucky Creatures (B+)
  • The Mall (A-)
  • Timothy (B-)
  • Only Took A Year (C)
  • I Got This (B+)
  • Underlow (C-)
  • Laurie (C)