Though released in June 2020, Phoebe Bridgers’s sophomore album, Punisher, is a hallmark of the fall season. Aside from the obvious reasons, like the track “Halloween,” or the skeleton jumpsuit that Bridgers wears both on the album cover and consistently in her live performances, the album sonically encapsulates the fall season and the feeling of a crisp Halloween night.
Phoebe’s voice is hauntingly beautiful. With little emphasis and lots of airy, high notes, I could imagine her voice playing ghostly notes in the soundtrack of a horror movie. She has a mourning tone that reminds me of something out of “Corpse Bride.” At times, Bridgers’s voice and stories within her songs remind me of a phantom that is reminiscing on its past.
Additionally, the content and nature of many of the songs on Punisher can be spooky or upsetting in their own ways. A song like “Moon Song” uses imagery describing a dead bird at her doorstep — a morbid representation of the love she provides for her partner that they don’t willingly receive.
In “Savior Complex,” the second verse is chock-full of spooky comparisons, like directly referring to her partner as a vampire in need of blood and expressing the need to expose the skeletons in the pair’s closets. In “I Know the End,” the final track on the album, Bridgers describes a haunted house in which she can “ghost her friends.” While the macabre descriptors aren’t always as flagrant as these ones, they exist throughout the tracklist of Punisher and tie each song on the record to the album cover and each other.
The least obvious elements of spookiness within Punisher are the production and the general message of the songs. The instrumentals on the record are part of what makes it so enjoyable, as Bridgers sticks to the most basic and predictable sounds, like piano and guitar. These simple sounds become haunting as Bridgers adds in digital harmonies to the background of many of the tracks. It almost gives a sense of a choir of ghosts lurking in the bones of each song. This atmospheric addition is subtle, but tangible when listening to the album. It’s not something you listen to and immediately go, “Yeah, that sounds a little spooky,” but it allows the listener to feel a sense of unease throughout the listening experience.
This discomfort is amplified by the nature of many of the songs on the album. From “Graceland Too,” which references the difficulties of loving someone who hates themselves, to “Kyoto,” which tells the story of Bridgers’s strained relationship with her father, even to “I Know The End,” which goes so far as to discuss the end of the world, Punisher is all but an easy listen, content-wise. While this type of discomfort isn’t exactly the same as the discomfort caused by Halloween and watching scary movies, sometimes the most upsetting and scary stories are ones that occur in everyday life.
Punisher has been hailed as marvelous by critics and the masses alike, and as Halloween lurks around the corner, I find myself drawn to this autumnal masterpiece more and more than ever before.
Daily Arts Writer Gigi Ciulla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.