Before November 2020, I didn’t listen to much music. Sure, I might have thrown on the occasional Beatles album considering my music taste hadn’t expanded from what my brother listened to 4 years ago. But one day, a friend showed me the song Motion Sickness by Phoebe Bridgers and I instantly fell in love. I asked my friend for more recommendations, listening to a lot of new music at that time. However, none of them stuck with me like Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers, which has become one of my favorite albums of all time.
One of the most important and often overlooked aspects of making a great album comes down to album sequencing. For those who aren’t aware, album sequencing is the order in which the songs are placed. Good pacing in an album can also turn a good album into a great one. Often the album can be organized like any other story, with a beginning, middle, and end. In its 11-song tracklist, Punisher can easily be organized in this fashion.
The beginning section is the shortest, consisting of the first 3 songs. The album opens up with DVD Menu, an instrumental track that's a melancholic but comfortable song to introduce us to the aesthetics of the album. This song can help to put you in a calmer state of mind as you dive deeper into the album, serving as a musical palate cleanser. We are then led into Garden Song. This song is defined by its subdued, underwater-like instrumentals under vocals from Phoebe Bridgers. In the opening of the song, Bridgers sings about an anecdote of planting a garden after a skinhead neighbor goes missing. This song has Bridgers reflecting on not only her past, but her future. She thinks about her unfulfillment in life despite getting the things she wanted…or at least she thought she wanted. But it seems that so far, this album has been defined by slow songs with minimal buildup, until Kyoto smashes that standard. With the song comes the introduction of one of the most memorable parts of Punisher: horns! Kyoto builds back into an explosive chorus with heart-wrenching vocals delivered by Bridgers. In the song, Bridgers explores her complicated relationship with her father, explaining how he was trying to make amends. Kyoto serves as a dramatic finale to the beginning of the album and sends us into the middle section.
The middle section of Punisher is longer at five songs, showcasing some of the most depressing parts of the album. The title track Punisher is the first song on this album. It cleanses us after Kyoto, describing a fictional meeting with her musical hero. We are then led to Hollywood, one of my favorite songs on the album, a beautiful song with amazing vocals delivered by Bridgers. The song tells a story of a dying relationship, a depressing situation for both parties, yet it feels too strong to end it. After this song ends we listen to Chinese Satellite, which is definitely one of the more explosive songs on the album. I think of this as a big action scene in the middle of a movie in order to bring us into the darkest moment of the album, which transitions into the next two songs, Moon Song and Savior Complex. These songs go together in the album, creating a story of a toxic relationship that Bridgers had to experience. She not only comes to terms with the problems of the other party, but also her own.
After the rollercoaster of depression, we are finally led into the last section. ICU starts with sweeping instrumentals as Bridgers explains her struggle with depression throughout her life. This section of the album almost feels hopeless with the addition of the next song, Graceland Too. Bridgers is loving someone in this song who hates themselves, taking an almost sinister turn as she repeats the line, “I’ll do whatever you want multiple times.” The last song, I Know The End, is another one of my favorites. It’s an apocalyptic song that starts slow, but builds into an explosive finale with crashing drums, blaring horns, and epic strings. As it goes on, Bridgers’ lyrics explore a town in her car, going from an old park talking to an old friend, to speeding down the road chasing down anything she can find, only to be greeted with a billboard: The end is here.
Overall, Punisher holds a theme of Phoebe Bridgers trying to overcome the trauma in her life as experiences and past events come back to haunt her. The album is mostly composed of subdued slower-paced songs with emphasized lyrics that tell a story. But there is the rare occasion that Bridgers chooses to make the songs more high-paced and explosive. The rarity of these only serves to add more drama and importance to these songs. And Punisher is an album with great pacing, great songs, and a great album finisher, that I happen to love.