Friday, August 29, 2014

Album Review: KILLER by Phoebe Bridgers Takes You to Unexpected Places

Pre-Review NOTES:

It is funny how you can find treasures that you weren't even looking for. I have had the Pixies and the Smell (a well loved LA indie venue) in my brain lately. The Pixies because I just penned a review of their new record Indie Cindy and the Smell because I have been going over video of bands I have recently shot there. Then the omni-present "Powerful" IPhone 5S commercial reared up and kind of cemented them both together. It features the Pixies iconic Gigantic and (if I am not mistaken) the Smell is featured as well. While trying to verify if that location is the Smell I found out about Phoebe Bridgers as she is in the commercial singing and playing Gigantic at the Smell within the shadows of the old mural adorned brick walls and that back stage door I am so familiar with. This internet ping ponging lead me to Killer which is Phoebe's latest EP which was release on March 31st.

ALBUM REVIEW:  KILLER by Phoebe Bridgers

The best indie folk weaves together stories and music that take you to unexpected places. Los Angeles based singer / songwriter Phoebe Bridgers does exactly this by combining a truly earnest singing style, a blendo style of music that combines folk, indie, roots, alt-country, even dream pop and lyrical content that is emotionally wrought and surprisingly gritty, even dark. Her songs are peppered with words and passages like "deathbed", "spit the blood back", "needle on a tray", "beautiful bones", "I dreamt that he drowned", "inside black as coal" and she even references a particularly nasty serial killer in the song Killer.  This isn't to suggest that her songs reside in some kind of dark folk dungeon. They do not but the way in which she tells her stories, her poetry are evocative of artists who dare to share their pain whether figuratively, actually or a combination of both. Elliot Smith immediately comes to mind even though his musical style is so different.
The instrument in which she graces us with these stories, her voice, is so full of character as she fully carries the emotional weight of her words. She has a great voice and sings passionately. I thought of Jen Wasner of Wye Oak not necessarily in some shared tones but in both their abilities to make us, the listener, fully feel the emotion of their vocal performance.

The first track, Chelsea with a sweeping indie folk sound and bright soaring lead guitar work is a beautiful vista of a song. Phoebe's doesn't hold back anything with her vocals. Georgia edges more towards an alt-folk ballad with some beautiful musical breaks and backing vocals. The percussive drum sticks coming in midway is a lovely touch. The production touches shine. The namesake song, Killer is a spartan, mind blowing alt-folk song with a twisted wit. The abject dark intimacy dressed in such hooky melodies reminded me a bit of the wonderful Tyler Lyle. Amidst the dark poetry the song is utterly beautiful. Phoebe's tender performance mildly freaks you out and breaks your heart at the same time. Conversely, Turned Around is a full on indie folk / alt-country rocker but with tortured lyrics in tow. If there is a let down on this amazing EP it is the last track Whatever. It feels to me like a departure from the 4 songs that came before. It has an indie pop heart with alt rock muscles. It is catchy but it doesn't grab me emotionally like the other songs. It almost feels like Paramore light and while there is nothing wrong with that it didn't surprise me musically or lyrically like the other truly engaging songs.

Phoebe Bridger's KILLER EP is a treasure to find and take hold of. Like Lorde, the breadth and scope of her lyrics and the stories contain therein feel more mature than her young years. It will be wonderful to witness her evolution as an artist.

Robb Donker

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