Phoebe Bridgers / Dead Oceans
As the first few haunting seconds of “DVD Menu” float through the air, the atmosphere gets a little chillier, as if a ghost has passed through.
You’re not watching the opening credits of a horror movie, but instead listening to the first track of Phoebe Bridgers’ new album, “Punisher.” You will find the artist decked out in a full-length skeleton onesie on the cover, though.
Bridgers, a Los Angeles native, first snuck up onto the music scene after releasing her debut album, “Stranger in the Alps,” that garnered praise for its unflinchingly honest lyricism and landed her comparisons to one of her musical idols, Elliot Smith.
“Punisher” comes on the heels of a string of collaborations with artists like Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, Conor Oberst and The 1975. Not one to rest on delivering good work, Bridgers delivers a follow-up to the album that made so many people fall in love with her in the first place by sticking to what she knows best, but reinventing it in a way that feels fresh.
She turns her sound up a notch, combining her trademark falsetto and soft instrumentals with a fast-paced beat, like on the track “Kyoto.” She ditches the soft spoken vocals and completely lets loose of her inhibitions towards the end, letting out a wail over beating drums that fills your headphones.
Bridgers has never tried to cover up the ugly parts of her. While some artists might try to present a cookie cutter picture of life, Bridgers writes about what scares her, what annoys her and what makes her tick.
“I hate living by the hospital / The sirens go all night / I used to joke that if they woke you up / Somebody better be dying,” she sings on “Halloween,” a sentiment that most of us would be afraid to admit in intimate conversation.
Though Bridgers’ lyrics are painfully specific, they’re written in a way that feels all too relatable to listeners. “The doctor put her hands over my liver / She said my resentment’s getting smaller,” she croons in “Garden Song.”
She makes her songwriting seem easy, leaving listeners wondering what kind of life experiences she’s had to make her sing “You couldn’t have / Stuck your tongue down the throat of somebody / Who loves you more,” on “Moon Song.”
This has always been her appeal: capturing snapshots of her life in a way that makes listeners want to tuck them away in their pocket for safekeeping, even though it’s not their memory for keeping.
To put it bluntly, Bridgers writes music for the moments when all you want to do is wallow in self-pity. We don’t want a promise of a better tomorrow; we want to hear Bridgers compare the end of a relationship to a dead bird being dropped off by a dog to its owner, then go quietly sob over it.
Though the album only clocks in at 40 minutes, time seems to move slowly, as if you’re moving through water while it plays. With this being only her second album, it’s exciting to think of what new songs will come next to emotionally beat us over the head. Until that happens, we can be content with putting “Punisher” on repeat.