Sound Advice: Phoebe Bridgers with Conor Oberst (Sept. 16)

Sep 8, 2017 at 2:20 pm

click to enlarge Phoebe Bridgers - Photo: Frank Ockenfels
Photo: Frank Ockenfels
Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers is one of those inexplicably amazing artists whose work drifts effortlessly into the listener's consciousness after a single exposure and then immediately and incessantly demands endless repetition. Considering she's been at this singer/songwriter gig for a decade, it's hardly a surprise that Bridgers' debut album, Stranger in the Alps, is engaging and compelling enough to be in contention as one of the year's best releases. Considering she'll turn 23 on her next birthday adds a jaw-dropping exclamation point to that biographical factoid.

Bridgers learned guitar at age 12 and was encouraged by her music teachers to pursue songwriting. She quickly became a fixture at The Grand Ole Echo, a renowned Los Angeles Americana music series, where she stunned everyone who heard her evocative voice, her graceful guitar lines and her mesmerizing songs. Bridgers gained a broader audience in 2014 when two of her songs, "Safe at Home" and "Ask Me To/Steamroller," were featured in the television show Switched at Birth. Her profile was raised even higher when a friend cast her and her pals as a female band in an Apple iPhone commercial where Bridgers sang an ethereal and captivating version of the Pixies' "Gigantic."

Two years ago, Bridgers' boyfriend introduced her to Ryan Adams; upon hearing one of her songs, he invited her to return the following day for a recording session that yielded "Killer," a three-song introductory 7-inch vinyl release, through Adams' Pax-Am label. Last year, Bridgers' song "Georgia" was featured in an episode in the final season of Castle, and this year saw her ink a contract with Dead Oceans. Stranger in the Alps will officially be released in late September.

Bridgers has professed her deep admiration for both Elliott Smith and Tom Waits, so it's natural that Stranger in the Alps exhibits a lot of the same musical tendencies — achingly beautiful and melancholic melodies, textural and atmospheric arrangements and lyrics that are both reflective and jarring ("I have emotional motion sickness/Somebody roll the windows down/There are no words in the English language I could scream to drown you out"), delivered in a voice with the powerful lilt of Jane Siberry and the quiet intensity of Shawn Colvin. She also claims Neil Young, Mark Kozelek, Father John Misty and Ryan Adams — who enthusiastically compared Bridgers to Bob Dylan — and those threads are equally evident.

Just as Sturgill Simpson turned Country music on its head and shook the expectations out of its pockets, Phoebe Bridgers has reimagined Folk/Americana as a a cosmic therapy session and made the perfect soothing-yet-exhilarating accompanying soundtrack.

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