BLIND TASTE TEST: Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger In The Alps

Fran has actually found an artist that Sam hasn’t heard before. So he did the inevitable and made him to listen to them. Hear what he made of it in the latest Blind Taste Test.

Dear Sam,

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that your music tastes confound me. There are artists, such as Laura Marling, that we are totally in sync on. There are many we are not. I am sometimes thrown by how you can love something that I love in one breath, and then call The 1975 the best band in Britain in the next. So setting you a Blind Taste Test is a slightly scary prospect.

You also seem to have heard pretty much everything, so I was surprised when I sent you a list of possibles for this article and you didn’t know any of them. I was particularly pleased you hadn’t heard Phoebe Bridgers.

I find it hard to imagine that you won’t like Stranger in the Alps, but maybe I am slightly blinded by the fact that it is in my top 5 albums of the last decade. It’s beautiful. With it’s blend of folk, pop, and indie, it shows Phoebe to be one of the most exciting songwriters of our age. She tells stories. She makes you want to cry and smile in the same sentence. She slays me. Whether it’s the heartbreaking ‘Funeral’, the breathtaking ‘Killer’, or the fantastic ‘Scott Street’, I am floored by every song.

‘Motion Sickness’ is probably the poppiest cut here, but it’s also the most savage. To save you wondering what it’s about, I’ll just tell you that this song went a long way to revealing the truth about Ryan Adams’s behaviour when it was released.

All that said, I have no idea how you’ll feel about this album. I genuinely hope you love it as much as I do, as I’m yet to meet another Phoebe fan in the flesh.

Cheers

Fran

As you rightly said Fran, I can be hard to predict given how random my music taste seems to be. The fact I’m sitting here listening to Take That while I write this pretty much backs up your points. I’d certainly heard of Phoebe Bridgers, but if you’d asked me what kind of music it was I’d have thought that she was sort of Alternative St Vincent/Beck-ish ‘not really any genre’ kind of music. Instead you’ve asked me to listen to an album that sounds like it was written for you, Fran.

My first thought during the opening moments of ‘Smoke Signals’ was how unique and piercing Phoebe’s vocals are. I was instantly hooked by her powerful performance. I wrote the words VERY BEN HOWARD in all caps about 10 seconds in – a comparison that I thought could go either way across the rest of the record. Either she starts delving into more electronic ambient music, or reverts back into folksy sounds.

 

Suddenly I’m listening to ‘Motion Sickness’, which you described as the most poppy moment on the record and I think I’m now a Phoebe Bridgers fan. What a glorious song, the way it builds and builds is stunning. The middle eight on this song? Incredible stuff. Vocally, lyrically and musically I’m sold on this album two tracks in.

I wrote down about the guitar in this song too and I actually think the guitar lines – bass, acoustic and electric – in different places are the stand-out things musically. I love the way they are used on just about every track here. The way she used it on ‘Demi Moore’ is completely different to ‘Funeral’. This was also the point where I wrote ‘I can see why Fran LOVES this album and artist’. Am I wrong?

I have no idea about her previous work before this album, or her work since, but she sounds like someone who found her way back to a folkier sound rather than starting with this. Something that on ‘Scott Street’ took me to the biggest comparison I could find, and the reason this sounds like Fran’s ultimate album.

 

That sound I was trying to pinpoint appeared on the slight harmonies and layered sound of ‘Scott Street’, it sounds just like Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago. Tiny in scale but epic musically. The times when the song builds and builds is glorious and the flickers of string sound and off-kilter sounds in the distance are pure genius. ‘Georgia’ captures a similar tone (‘Another hell of a build’ I wrote down) and that one in particular ended up as my favourite since ‘Motion Sickness.’

‘Killer’ is the outlier at the centre of the record and while I agree that it shows some of the best lyrical depth, I found it less interesting once the guitars I loved elsewhere stopped. ‘Would You Rather’ was probably the lowest point for me though, that sudden set of Male vocals seemed like a strange moment and the song doesn’t really seem to go anywhere.

The final track ‘You Missed My Heart’ nicely goes full circle back to the opening, closing a record that, in the end, I really loved. There’s so much depth in everything on Stranger in the Alps, musically so thrilling from start to finish. I love Phoebe’s voice, as well as her way around a lyric and powerful delivery. Has Fran made a good suggestion for me here? Most definitely. I’ll see you at Phoebe’s next Manchester gig!

Words by Sam Atkins

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