In the time between her first and second albums, Phoebe Bridgers has seen her career take off. After recording and performing with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker as the indie supergroup boygenius and teaming up with Conor Oberst to form the duo Better Oblivion Community Center, the Los Angeles singer-songwriter is back with her sophomore effort, the dark and enchanting Punisher.
Like her debut, the soundscape of Punisher is largely comprised of gentle indie-folk with the occasional detour into a more explosive rock sound. The subtle and somber instrumental passages underscore the tone and specificity that makes Bridgers’ writing so evocative, while also making room for her sharp sense of humor. One of Punisher’s most distinct qualities, Bridgers’ mission appears to be to make her fans cry and laugh hysterically within the same song. Whether she’s taking digs at Eric Clapton (“Moon Song”) or writing about crippling loneliness (“Kyoto”), jest and sadness happily coexist in her wordplay.
The beauty of the record stretches well beyond the strength of Bridgers’ pen, as Punisher’s production is equally precise, two examples being the understated guitar lullaby “Garden Song” and the country-folk crescendo “Graceland Too.” The obvious influence here is Elliot Smith, who also serves as direct inspiration for the superfan meditation of the title track. Like her hero, Bridgers’ downcast lyrics radiate unusual warmth. That ability to inject her sad songs with a sense of comfort is largely why she has become such a beloved figure in the indie world and why she has the potential to be a defining voice for her times. On Punisher, she perfectly captures the essence of millennial diffidence along with our eternal need for intimacy.