I got into Phoebe Bridgers the same way any millennial might: first through her jokes on Twitter, and then through Conor Oberst.
Shortly after the release of her incredible debut album Stranger In The Alps, Bridgers caught the attention of Bright Eyes’ Oberst and the pair formed Better Oblivion Community Center. Taking any and all opportunities to see Oberst live, I went to see the pair perform in London and ended up enamoured with Bridgers. I cried my eyes out at her cover of Bright Eyes’ Lua. Shortly after, I delved deep into her very small, powerful oeuvre and became an instant fan.
Bridgers’ second album Punisher was released a little over a week ago, dropped a day early (opens in new tab) by the unpredictable, thoughtful artist, with a call to donate to BLM-related causes.
I’m not pushing the record until things go back to “normal” because I don’t think they should. Here it is a little early. Abolish the police. Hope you like it.https://t.co/vmwERN0SOmJune 18, 2020
While Bridgers didn't intend to promote the album, she didn’t really need to. Punisher speaks for itself. With hilarious, gut-wrenching lyrics about loss, loneliness and the end of the world, it’s accidentally very current and more than earned its slew of five-star reviews.
Punisher is full of gorgeous songs, but it’s closing track I Know The End that's the album's standout, begging for repeat listens.
I Know The End took a long time to develop. It was the first song on the record that Bridgers started working on, but the last to see completion. In a recent video (opens in new tab), Bridgers called herself a “sucker for a huge outro”, and I Know The End is the hugest of them all. Like the rest of the album, it’s a collaborative effort, featuring horns by Bright Eyes’ Nate Walcott, a ton of instruments, and vocals contributed by artists including Bridgers’ boygenius colleagues Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus and Conor Oberst. Dealing with the burnout, depression and loneliness of tour, lyrics like “there’s no place like my room,” seem eerily prescient.
The entire song is beautiful, but most memorably, it builds to a third verse about driving through California and seeing a SpaceX launch. With snippets that evoke dusty Americana – “slot machines”, “fear of God”, “government drone”, “America first rap country song”, “slaughterhouse”, “outlet mall” – the song grows into an apocalyptic climax, with backing vocals yelling 'the end is near' before falling into a cacophony of screams – which Bridgers refers to (opens in new tab) as her attempt at a "real guttural metal scream" – and laughter.
It has traces of other artists, like Bright Eyes or Manchester Orchestra, but I Know The End plays a clever trick – it's distinctly Bridgers but it also hints at her future potential: huge, outward-looking songs that capture the feelings of not just herself but a moment, a country and a generation.