What does it sound like?:
Do you see what happens, Larry? Do you see what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps?
Phoebe Bridgers is a disgustingly young LA artist. She’d previously put out a 7″ on Ryan Adams’ label, and this debut is produced by Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis, and features a duet with Conor Oberst, all of which gives you a pretty good idea where she’s coming from. It’s not a million miles from the Julie Byrne album that got some traction here earlier in the year – the sound is basically folk, with a bit of invention and studio trickery. The songs are built on foundations of acoustic guitar and piano, with support from electric guitars, synths and strings, and then some wilder sounds thrown in. A plane passes overhead above the Twin Peaks twang of opener ‘Smoke Signals’, and there’s a moment in the gorgeous crescendo of album highlight ‘Scott Street’ where among the wordless vocals and building strings you hear the bell of a child’s bicycle, then the choo-choo of a steam train. Okay, it sounds daft, like the Mad Professor dubbing Joni Mitchell, but it works beautifully.
It strikes me writing this that those sounds are all of travel and memory, and that fits with the album. It’s full of wistfulness, a longing for a time and a place that isn’t here or now. It’s sad and melancholy, but hey, I like sad and melancholy. It isn’t maudlin or self indulgent, but uplifting and unifying. These songs are all stories, based in the specific but reaching through to the universal.
Bridgers’ vocals are strong and clear, but still fragile and intimate, and her lyrics have enough self awareness that she doesn’t come off as yet another pretty but sad girl with an acoustic guitar. Take ‘Funeral’ – it’s the night before the funeral of “a kid a year older than me”, and she quashes her nascent self pity: “And I woke up in my childhood bed / Wishing I was someone else, feeling sorry for myself /When I remembered, someone’s kid is dead“. The album ends with a cover of Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaVelle’s ‘You Missed My Heart’, a crime and punishment ballad that would have fit right in on a late period Johnny Cash album, that is here given a luminous honeyed glow, like a beautiful dream that is also true.
It takes a lot for a largely acoustic singer songwriter album to get me, but this one has. It’s sad and beautiful, and I love it.
What does it all *mean*?
I’m a sucker for sad
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
Elliott Smith, Bright Eyes, Sarabeth Tucek, Angel Olsen, Laura Marling