There’s a lot happening in the music world, and we here at Heavy Blog try our very best to keep up with it! Like the vast majority of heavy music fans, our tastes are incredibly vast, with our 3X3s in each Playlist Update typically covering numerous genres and sometimes a different style in each square. While we have occasionally covered non-metal topics in past blog posts, we decided that a dedicated column was warranted in order to more completely recommend all of the music that we have been listening to. Unmetal Monday is a bi-weekly column which covers noteworthy tracks and albums from outside the metal universe, and we encourage you all to share your favorite non-metal picks from the week in the comments. As is tradition, we’ll be highlighting a few albums and tracks that struck our fancy over the past few weeks. Head past the jump to dial down the distortion:
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Living up to the hype after a stellar debut is one of the hardest things for an artist to do. When your first work (often obsessed over for years and the culmination of most if not all of an artist’s best created content) is a home run, replicating or eclipsing that success is a challenge of epic proportions. None know this better in the music world of 2020 than Phoebe Bridgers. Her first album, Stranger in the Alps, was an instant success, weaving its way into the hearts of indie-loving music fans through brutally honest lyrics coupled with a mostly minimalist musical palette and Bridgers’ signature, fragile vocals. Unlike most records released last decade, Alps became an almost instant classic, and catapulted Bridgers’ career into the stratosphere. She’s since worked with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker to form boygenius, collaborated with indie singer-songwriter legend Conor Oberst in Better Oblivion Community Center, and produced Christian Lee Hutson’s excellent 2020 debut record, expanding the fairly introverted approach of the music in her debut exponentially. With new musical experiences under her belt and a growing reputation for excellence, expectations were insanely high for Punisher. It’s astonishing how effectively and powerfully she delivers.
The biggest hurdle to overcome for Alps obsessives (whom I count myself among) is that Punisher is not the same record in overall tone, content, or musical template. Bridgers has grown exponentially as an artist since the release of her debut, and Punisher is perhaps the most stark example of this growth. These songs glitter and glisten with robust musical flourish, feeling more open and expansive than almost anything on Alps. “Garden Song”, while maintaining Bridgers’ signature balance of happy/sad dynamics, introduces her new approach well, as her melancholic lyrics (which include a vocal guest spot from her tour manager) stack atop shimmering electronics from co-producer Ethan Gruska. “Kyoto” only further bolsters this dynamic with an explosion of musical propulsion that is as expansive as anything she’s yet written. Bridgers’ expansion of the walls she so meticulously constructed around her music is obvious from the very beginning of Punisher, and continues to become even more obvious as the record progresses.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Bridgers has completely abandoned the sonic intimacy that made her the household name she has increasingly become. There are still stark, quiet moments that have become her calling card. The album’s title track and “Halloween” in particular offer quiet, contemplative examples of Bridgers’ continued ability to captivate through storytelling, with the music taking a tonal backseat to her mesmerizing lyrics. But Bridgers shines most brightly when she’s pushing her own musical envelope, with the lush string arrangements of “Chinese Satellite” and “Savior Complex” highlighting utterly gorgeous expansion into new musical territory that she only hinted at previously in tracks like “Scott Street”. It smacks of Alligator-era The National, and that’s a very good thing. It all reaches an emotionally cathartic apex in finale “I Know the End”, which explodes in a Bright Eyes-inspired, Sufjan Stevens-adjacent cacophony punctuated by Bridgers screaming into the void. It’s a widescreen end to an album that represents growth in every possible facet.
Punisher is a very different album than Bridgers’ debut, and it’s all the better for it. With her assured and expansive sophomore effort, Bridgers has proven that she is no one-trick pony, allowing her musical and songwriting palettes to blossom in an organic manner, culminating in an album that is just as good as her debut in completely different ways without ever losing the thread that makes all of her music compelling: Emotional vulnerability and bracing honesty. It’s as far from a disappointment as a much anticipated follow-up can get, firmly establishing Bridgers as a leading voice in American music. A fantastic release.