Even before I heard a note of her music, I heard Phoebe Bridgers’ name. It was being tossed around by the people who had heard sweeping, gorgeous ballads off her devastating debut album, Stranger In The Alps, and, possibly, her short, three-song Killer EP. That EP was produced by Ryan Adams, and Conor Oberst shows up to duet with Bridgers on “Would You Rather,” off Stranger, in case you needed a couple of touchstones to help place her elegant, cutting songwriting.
Growing up in Pasadena, on the outskirts of LA, Bridgers wrote her first song at 11 and attended the arts-focused Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, graduating in 2013. The Killer EP came just two years later, in 2015, and set her on the path toward Strangers. Bridgers writes about trauma with the steadiness of someone who has tried and failed to stave it off other ways. As such, her lovely debut record is the work of an artist who knows the heft and power of these songs — you get the sense she uses them to get through, too.
But then, it’ll come to light that she named this gut-wrenching record for the silly, made-for-TV overdub of The Big Lebowski‘s crude line “f*ck a stranger in the ass” (they change it to “fight a stranger in the alps”) and another side of Bridgers begins to emerge. Nestled within these songs about suicide pacts, the kind of breakups that feel like they break you yourself, and singing at funerals, a hint of Phoebe’s humor manages to come through.
“I’ve got emotional motion sickness, somebody roll the window down,” she deadpans on “Motion Sickness,” as though fresh air could clear out the inner nausea of toxic relationship the way it does physical illness. Or, perhaps, it can, and in that case it’s Bridgers’ album that is the cool, clean air, not designed to heal — maybe you’re not there just yet — but it’s a purifying blast of processed pain and glistening loss that will push your own pain back out into the atmosphere, replacing it with a tender certainty.
Without letting anyone who hurt her off the hook, Bridgers takes no prisoners in this collection of blunt, beautiful songs, setting her listener free as they unspool. Whether they’ve worked their same magic on her remains to be seen, but in the meantime, here are her thoughts on some of the more biographical elements about her life and some behind-the-scenes notes on the basics of making the album.