maandag 13 juli 2020

Punisher. Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers in the past three years has been identified as a major talent and something of an alternative icon. Whether solo, her debut or working with others, she came forward as a major talent for the future. There's one thing that was dissenting, my personal experience. Of course musical tastes are musical tastes but sometimes I just have to work harder. So I decided to give it a go and see where this experience ends.

Up front. With some artists it just happens that for whatever reason I cannot hear the melody they sing. This happened to me with a lot with e.g. the Laurel Canyon post hippies of the 70s. A lot of their work led to an almost physical reaction in my body. This has to do with the melodies that are not right for me. This is not the case with Phoebe Bridgers.

So far I have listened about five times to Punisher and a few extra for the songs on the 'I See You' single, that I reviewed a few weeks back. Like on the single I like 'Kyoto' immediately. The song is, just like Bridgers' singing, alive. The trumpet and the full band effort makes the song a joy to listen to. Ms Bridgers may sing somewhat downcast, it doesn't bring the song down in any way. This is upbeat music for the downtrodden. I love the way the trumpet moves through the song.

Many other songs though are almost more atmosphere than song. Never fully, as there is a clear vocal melody. Around that melody the instruments are more there to create and atmosphere. Extremely delicate, like in the title song. Sparse strings are allowed in over atmospheric sounds and a guitar that is mixed away into the dark background.

By the time 'Halloween' comes, the fifth song, I notice again that Punisher is demanding a lot of my attention. And it is here that the album runs into trouble with me. The question I find myself asking: Is this album worth all the effort it demands? My answer tends towards no. In most of the songs there is a minimum of variation and yes there's something going on, but at times so subtle that it takes too much effort for me to start enjoying the details.

This is not all. The downcast vibe of the album is no invitation to listen more as well. All is so glum. The instrumentation, the mix allows for almost nothing to escape the whole. Phoebe Bridgers is looking at the sky in 'Chinese Satellite', but does not see enough blue up there to make a new pair of pants from. By far most songs on Punisher do not entertain me. They make me feel concerned for her well-being and that is not why I'm listening to records. Basically what I ran into with the single, I still run into with the album as a whole. 'ICU' (on the album it's called this) even stands out as a beacon of light on Punisher. Where the combination does work for me is 'Moon Song'. Here her voice is used as a strength and it comes across easily. The theme and the mood are negative, again. Yet here all the things that happen around her voice come across as positive and energized. I totally understand that this is my personal experience and (perhaps) not yours, so please allow me to explain what happens to me during Punisher.

Strangely enough having listened the whole album through once again I'm still in doubt. Am I missing something that others so easily hear or is it, for a large part, simply boring music? The fact that I can't answer this question truthfully, yet, is saying something. The true test would be the head and stereo set, a true one on one, but for that I need to own the album first and I do not know whether it is worth the investment.

The album goes out with a bang and I'm tickled once more. It is the right song to invite re-listening for sure. 'I Know The End' does get an the end including everything in the ending, where it starts like an average Punisher song.

Summing up. Although I am in doubt how to score the album as a whole, I do not hear the major talent part. Phoebe Bridgers to me sounds like a singer-songwriter of which there are multitudes of. She presents her songs on Punisher with a lot of modern sounds but does that make her songs more special? That answer is no. For me it gets more interesting when Bridgers lets go of the singer-songwriter context, as it shows more interesting sides and arrangements to her songs. So please, if you haven't done so yet, go and form your own opinion and for all who have done so, thank you for bearing with me in my struggle.


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