The house is exactly what you’d expect: practically a studio apartment except it stands on its own, draped in honeysuckle and Dutchman’s pipe; a yard of dune sedge and stone. Her dog is buried in the garden along the eastern wall; sometimes, she wonders if the ground will bloom half-a-dozen of him under a certain kind of moon. In the morning the light creeps sideways through the windows and lights her up from the chest down, her head nestled in the shadow. Sometimes she finds herself playing guitar before she has left sleep. Her hands strum but her mind is still dreaming. (It’s her birthday, she’s at the movies, the screen is a tidal wave, someone touches her leg, she wakes up with her fingers tangled in the strings and the kettle whistling.)
The house is haunted. It should go without saying, but it should be said anyway. The house is haunted, but no one knows anything about the ghost or how it messes with you, except for the fact that every time she goes away (to Texas, to Memphis, to Graceland, to Germany) she always ends up coming home again. It’s the strangest kind of haunting. Everyone calls it, the house, the House of Punishment—more than one mistaken citizen has turned up looking for a similarly-named erotic dungeon on the other side of town—but the name is misleading. It is not a house where someone was punished, or a house where someone might be punished, but a house that replaces punishment; instead of feeling guilt or regret you must play quietly in any corner, and eventually the emotion will resolve itself.
Inside, every door frame is notched: the respective growths of former tenants, friends. On one of them, a place where—deep in her cups—she’d measured her height as a full five inches taller than normal; only the next morning did she realize, cotton-mouthed, that she’d been standing on her toes when she’d slid the pencil over the apex of her skull. There had been a Murphy bed once, she was certain, and sometimes when she was very, very tired she would imagine her bed, which was not a Murphy bed, snapping her up into the wall. Next to her bed, in her nightstand drawer, lived the following things: crumpled receipts, red yarn, eight dollars, a white lighter, two undeveloped film cameras, Grether’s Pastilles in their old-timey tin, fistfuls of birthday cards with the shimmer worn off, a pocket-sized copy of the constitution, a pocket knife, a pair of swimming goggles, a pair of recording headphones, shoelaces twisted into a Gordian knot, an unpaid parking ticket, a strip of Peanuts Halloween stickers, an MRI request form from when she sprained her finger, colloidal silver (someone told her it would cure her cold; someone else told her it would give her Argyria), a map of Kyoto (she’d gotten bored at the temple), incense, her first fan letter (she promised herself she’d respond; she never did), a bunch of bolts, a plastic doll’s hand, doggie bags (he’d died over a year ago), an unopened Replacements cassette, an unopened 23 & Me kit, an unopened fortune cookie, unopened pepper spray she doesn’t trust herself to take out of the packaging. In a fake book on her desk—pleather-bound and conspicuously absent a title—she collects her used boarding passes, old concert tickets, disconnected wristbands. It doesn’t escape her notice that she can’t throw anything away, that objects remain unopened, unresolved, untangled, unconsumed. She is always in the middle. She is never at the end of anything.
She lives near a hospital. All night, she hears sirens, imagines the people being transported to and fro, their bodies speeding along in the back of ambulances and their spirit trying to catch up. She makes jokes. “If I wake up, someone better be dying,” she says, until one night she wakes up and feels it: someone’s essence slipping past her on the way to somewhere else. After that, she thinks about the hospital as a metaphor, and considers the many ailments the metaphorical hospital could cure, the many symptoms it could treat: Imposter syndrome. Cabin fever. Foot-in-mouth disease. Word vomit.
She invites her friends—that is to say, her family—over for dinner. She has this one friend whose dad was really obsessed with blood—blood as in family, not the interesting kind of blood—and how it was thicker than water (ew), and then one day her friend looked up the actual expression and it was, The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. Shit, right? Anyway, she makes a green bean casserole, which is demolished in short order, and hot rolls. Someone kills a pint of ice cream she’s been saving. Someone else drinks a beer so hard it sputters, erupts. Someone else sits in the corner playing cat’s cradle, waiting to feel the guilt lift from their sternum.
After that, the coven of her covenant goes out beneath the new moon; they journal and play Bright Eyes and Britney Spears and act out María Irene Fornés’ plays and eat peaches. They lie on the grass and the stone and talk about the skies they were born under. They don’t believe, really, that it makes a difference, but it’s nice to think about. After all, everyone knows the world is ending. They’ve been told as much, and they can see it in the streets, and they know the world is irreparably fucked, but most importantly they feel it among themselves; they know this goodness cannot last forever.
She sits near them. They are together but at the same time they are alone, as we all are. Someone has put a braid into her hair; she’s left toothmarks on someone else. Something moves through the empty house, less the ghost than the breath of the ghost. She tells her friends: “I’m not afraid to disappear.” Someone laughs. Then, someone else opens their mouth, and something else climbs out.
Carmen Maria Machado, March 2020
Video & Press
How Phoebe Bridgers (Begrudgingly) Writes a Rock Song
[New York Times] The singer and songwriter prefers a ballad. But collaborators yanked her out of her comfort zone for “Kyoto,” a breakout from her latest acclaimed album. Here’s how she made it. The 25-year-old singer and songwriter shows us how “Kyoto” transformed from a ballad into a rock song over months, combining a stray […]
Phoebe Bridgers: Pitchfork Best New Music
[Pitchfork] Phoebe Bridgers / Punisher 8.7 / BEST NEW MUSIC By Sam Sodomsky On her marvelous second album, Phoebe Bridgers defines her songwriting: candid, multi-dimensional, slyly psychedelic, and full of heart. Her music has become a world unto itself. Phoebe Bridgers is a master of collapse. The 25-year-old California native writes songs for those moments when things […]
Phoebe Bridgers On Her New Album ‘Punisher,’ Surprise Released A Day Early
[NPR] By RACHEL MARTIN TAYLOR HANEY CYRENA TOUROS Phoebe Bridgers is the first to admit that she’s not reinventing herself on her new album. “There’s nothing avant-garde about it,” she says of Punisher, her second solo record and fourth major musical project in the last three years. Even so, there’s a quiet, assertive power to Punisher. It’s an […]
Livestreams This Week!
Here we go folks, your weekly High Road artist livestreams list ~ please send us anything we missed! May 26 at 5pm PST / 8 pm EST – Georgia On My Mind show benefiting the Georgia Music Foundation, hosted by Amy Ray and Brent Cobb, featuring the Indigo Girls and many more. May 26 at 4:20pm PST […]
Phoebe Bridgers’s Frank, Anxious Music
Her new album, “Punisher,” was crafted with foresight and intention, but the absurdity of the world in which it’s being released requires a certain amount of disengagement. By Amanda Petrusich [The New Yorker] In late February, the singer and songwriter Phoebe Bridgers appeared at Carnegie Hall as part of a benefit for Tibet House U.S., a nonprofit […]
Phoebe Bridgers Announces New Album Punisher, Shares New Song ‘Kyoto’: Listen
The singer-songwriter’s sophomore LP is out in June [Pitchfork] By Matthew Strauss Phoebe Bridgers has announced her sophomore solo album: Punisher is out June 19 via Dead Oceans. The follow-up to Stranger in the Alps includes “Garden Song,” as well as a new track called “Kyoto.” Check out Bridgers’ new “Kyoto” video below. Find physical editions of Punisher at Rough Trade. (Pitchfork earns a commission […]
Phoebe Bridgers is #1 on Uproxx Best Indie Albums of the 2010s
DEAD OCEANS 1. Phoebe Bridgers — Stranger In The Alps In the last few years, Phoebe Bridgers has become a central figure in the indie world, thanks to both her landmark solo debut album and her contributions to the Boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Center projects. There might not be a better songwriter to emerge this decade, a master of […]
Watch Phoebe Bridgers as Better Oblivion Community Center on NPR Tiny Desk
[NPR] When this fabulous new duo arrived for their Tiny Desk, it felt like old friends coming home. Both Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers are Tiny Desk alum. Conor’s first Tiny Desk Concert came during his Upside Down Mountain Tour in 2014. Phoebe has come by twice in the past few years, first as a solo artist in 2017 and then as part […]
Review: Better Oblivion Community Center Make Soft Rock For Hard Times
[Rolling Stone] Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst debut their new duo with a raw, redemptive album By Will Hermes What is it about dashed expectations that breed singer-songwriters? As the Sixties dream cratered, a golden era peaked in Laurel Canyon — think Joni, Jackson, Sweet Baby James — with a tendency towards wistful solipsism. Now, […]
Phoebe Bridgers Shares Hushed Cover of The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m in Love’
[Consequence of Sound] A beautiful version from the singer-songwriter’s Spotify Singles session BY Ben Kayeon Beyond her collaborative boygenius EP with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus (one of the year’s best efforts), Phoebe Bridgers has spent 2018 piling up the covers. There was that surprising take on Japandroids “The House That Heaven Built”, her Simone […]
Watch the Delightful Harmony of boygenius on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts
[NPR] By Bob Boilen The group is new, but all of the members of boygenius — Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers — are Tiny Desk Concert alumae. In fact, Julien has been behind my desk twice before. So when the usual nerve-racking session was over and I shouted out, “So, is it any […]
The Sweeter, Stranger Side of Phoebe Bridgers: Fader Interview
[Fader] The sweeter, stranger side of an artist you might otherwise think was only sad. By Mish Barber-Way In 2017, a relatively unknown artist named Phoebe Bridgers released her debut album, Stranger in the Alps. She sings dark folk-rock lullabies about funerals and wanting to die, yet still manages to work in backhanded digs at […]