After the rocketing success of 2018’s Stranger in the Alps, two glorious collaborations in the form of Boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Center, and a canceled tour (moved online) with The 1975, Phoebe Bridgers is set to release her new album on June 19.
Her work over the past few months offers a puzzle piece of the upcoming album, asking us to think about what the whole picture might look like and how it will fill our senses.
“Kyoto” is the second single off of Punisher, a roaring song with circus-y flutes and ample use of the brass section. Although the song is ostensibly about her father, it feels more like a teenage-road-trip than anything she’s done before. “25 felt like flying,” she sings, a double entendre about being 25 and driving 25—youth and low expectations. The second verse on “Kyoto” is also killer. Bridgers talks about parking at the Goodwill and staring “at the chem trails / with my little brother.” (A secret: a smashing second verse is a must-have in all the songwriting books). In the video, she flies transparently over a green-screen Kyoto. Here, Phoebe Bridgers is at her kitschiest.
“I See You” is the most recent single. By now it seems clear that Bridgers is using bigger sounds here than on Stranger in the Alps. “I See You” only has a lyric video out so far, so there will probably be more visuals to come, but already she juxtaposes humor to cut the tension. “I’ve been playing dead my whole life,” she sings, while shadow puppets act it out. And shadow-puppet Phoebe shrugs at the line ‘I don’t know what I want until I fuck it up.” (A shrug: the least affecting movement in human history). The song and video match perfectly, a sharp and sweet dichotomy between loving someone and hating their mom, between screaming and shrugging. She ends on a sliver of hope: “let the dystopian morning light pour in.”
On Garden Song, the first, saddest, and least kitschy of the three, her instrumentals hold dissonance without eeriness. I can listen to this and be sad without it filling me with dread, unlike (for example) Haley Hendrickx, who does something similar with guitar in her excellent song “The Bug Collector.”
The lyrics on Garden Song are warm and incisive (‘the doctor put her hands over my liver / she told me my resentment’s getting smaller’) and I was mesmerized by the video. It makes me want to take lots of deep, shuddery breaths. Worms show up as comfort animals as Bridgers hallucinates. (If you’re familiar with this very odd and specific character, these worms remind me of Aunt Beast in ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’) It is an odd video, but not self-deprecating.
Bridgers said on her Instagram that her brother really did get her stoned and scared for this video, even though she doesn’t smoke weed because she’s ‘scared of everything’). She also held a contest (#GardenSongVideoContest) and creative visual versions of her song poured in. She chose two winners: a gorgeous, chilling, almost Miyazakian animation and a video about a cute depressed person with a little green friend.
Punisher comes out June 19th. Stay tuned for the Young Folks review.