Phoebe Bridger’s Grammy Nominated Album “Punisher” Review


Dead Oceans Record label

Album cover from Phoebe Bridger’s second album “Punisher”

Araminta Siegling, Reporter

Phoebe Bridger’s album  Punisher quickly became one of the most beloved albums of the year in alternative music circles. The album was released on June 18, 2020, and helped the young artist get her first Grammy nominations. She was nominated in the categories of “Best New Artist,” which doesn’t make much sense because she has been in the scene for years now. Bridgers also has nominations in “Best Alternative Album” and “Best Rock Performance” for the album’s most popular track, Kyoto

Bridger’s first single came out in 2015, and her debut album Stranger in the Alps was released in 2017. She is also known for her side project, “Better Oblivion Community Center,” a band with Conor Oberst, which was a trailblazer for the Emo genre. Oberst’s band “Bright Eyes” greatly influenced Bridger’s work. Bridgers also is in the trio “Boygenius,” one of my personal favorite bands. The group also consists of the smartest indie-rocker in the room, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker, the underdog of the group. Bridgers also made a musical appearance in “Between Two Ferns: The Movie.” Bridgers had a tradition of putting ghost imagery into her album artwork which started in 2017 with the release of her first album. While her second album lacks a ghost on the cover, she still included a ghost in the album art for her new EP, If We Make It Through December. Bridgers also used ghost and skeleton imagery in her live performance of the song Savior Complex on Jimmy Fallon’s show. I thought that the inclusion of ghosts in her album art set her apart from other artists, and I hope she continues to use it.

Punisher’s style can only be described as 41 minutes of tragic romance with some bursts of energy in between. This really demonstrates the influence of emo music on Bridgers and how working with Oberst has affected her work. The album is eerily dissociative and this feeling is also mirrored in the album cover, which depicts Bridgers in a skeleton outfit staring up at the night sky alone. Her music video for the song Savior Complex has gained popularity for its David Lynch-inspired aesthetic. I personally think it is like if Lynch directed a Superbowl car commercial. 

The hit of the album, Kyoto, is an up-tempo alt-pop song about Bridger’s frustration and boredom while on tour. The song is up for a Grammy for “Best Rock Performance,” competing against 90s alt-rocker turned L.A. staple Fiona Apple’s song Shameika from the album Fetch The Bolt Cutters. One of my favorite songs on the album is ICU, an faster paced list of complaints and confessions. It is deeply personal and adds to the complicated emotions displayed in the album. For example, the song Graceland Too displays this emotional complexity in a melancholy meditation on her own fame and mortality. This track has her folk bluegrass instrumentation with banjo and violin, a return to her first singles but with a better arrangement. The 6th track on the album, Chinese Satellite, is an analysis of her own existential worries.

Part of Bridger’s appeal as a musician is the sadness in her music, which is similar in a way to how Morrisey gained popularity because of his dramatically self-indulgent lyrics. While it is good to see a young artist getting recognition from the Grammys, it also shows how the Grammys are purely corporate and not a good representation of the value of music. Bridgers nomination is long overdue as she has been in the music scene for years.

I have enjoyed Bridger’s music for over a year now, and her work has helped me to discover other artists. I love how cathartic her music can be. In the end, the album is great for its complexity and crafted songwriting and would be recommended to those who like thoughtful music. However, I would not suggest this album for those who cannot handle a bit of melancholy and prefer more upbeat music.  It will be interesting to see how Punisher performs in the Grammys.