It would have been really simple to write off Phoebe Bridger’s debut album as a Julien Baker clone. Both singer-songwriters write ambient folk rock with a large emotional weight placed on the lyrics. Still, Bridgers’ voice is a refreshing one that really resonates within the pop-punk and emo community. Even though she is a singer-songwriter through and through, her heart-on-her-sleeve and pop culture referencing lyrics certainly welcome her to a number of melancholy artists that have welcomed the likes of Julien Baker. Whether it’s the sweetness of “Killer” or the sadness in “Smoke Signals,” Stranger in the Alps is probably the most exciting debut album to be released this year.
Even though the core of Bridgers’ songs is simplicity, she takes these folk tunes to massive places in her production. Comparing the version of “Georgia” to the one that appeared on her Killer EP to the one on Stranger is a perfect example. It was originally a simple singer-songwriter acoustic number, but the piano and strings on this version make it sound like it could have been an outtake from Kesha’s Rainbow. The scorching sounds on “Smoke Signals” when Bridgers sings, “It’s been on my mind since Bowie died,” are reminiscent of a spaceship taking off, bringing Ziggy Stardust to mind immediately. There are a million little flourishes like that one, from random sirens to lighthouse bells, and they all add to Bridgers’ excellent lyrics.
Bridgers’ lyricism is really where this LP shines. She’s clever (“I have emotional motion sickness”), self-aware (“Sang ‘Ace of Spades’ when Lemmy died/but L.A.’s still the same”), and emotionally blunt (see: entire album). Bridgers pairs her melodies with memorable lyrics like in “Funeral,” where she sings:
I’m singing at a funeral tomorrow
For a kid a year older than me
And I’ve been talking to his dad
It makes me so sad
When I think too much about it I can’t breathe
She’s also incredibly skilled at flipping a simple phrase to have multiple meanings like in “Missed My Heart,” where it seems she sings about two ex-lovers. The first, she uses a stabbing metaphor to reflect her choice to split with this person, but later, she mentions how she lists to a lover all the things she loves about her, but the girl tells her that she missed one crucial thing. Other songs deal with similar feelings of loneliness and mental illness such as “Chelsea,” which opens with “For a chemical imbalance, you sure know how to ride a train.” Even, “Killer” is a macabre love song that could have easily been an early Alice Cooper track, which from all the references on “Smoke Signals,” it seems like she’d appreciate that comparison.
What really sells all these songs is the conviction that Bridgers sings these with. The emotionally-traumatizing lyrics sound like they’re sang from a bedroom floor waking up next to a half empty bottle of whiskey. “Killer” is both nervous and tender. “Smoke Signals” and “You Missed My Heart” both hold a similar emotional weight of someone telling a sad story from a recent time in their life. Stranger in the Alps is one of the most honest and heart-wrenching LPs to come out this year, and Bridgers’ name is definitely one to keep in mind.