Does anyone else remember the days before streaming services? Before playlists? If you wanted to get someone into a certain band, or play them a selection of the artists you’d be watching live at the weekend, you couldn’t just drag every song they’d ever written into a playlist and send it to them over email. Nope. You really had to think about it, to distill that feeling you wanted to give them down into a few tough choices.
Tapes had two sides, both 45 minutes long. You had that long to say what you needed to say and then it was time to move on. We’re bringing that challenge back in our mixtape. 45 minutes to convince someone why they should like a certain band, artist, genre, or era.
Having just scored tickets to see her in Manchester in July, I wanted to use my excitement to put together the perfect Phoebe Bridgers mixtape. I have 45 minutes to convince you why you should love her music as much as I do. While she may only have two solo studio albums out, this was an extremely hard mixtape to whittle down and I know there are some key songs missing. But here’s 45 minutes of music that I think shows the majesty of Phoebe’s music, the breadth of her collaboration, and the relentlessness with which she releases great music. Playlist at the bottom, for those who hate reading me waffle:
For many, this is the ultimate Phoebe Bridgers song and it really makes sense as an opener here. It might be the poppiest sounding song on her debut album Stranger In The Alps, but it is the perfect showcase of her lyrical dexterity and storytelling ability.
It was always obviously an empowering song about escaping an abusive relationship, but when it was later revealed to be about her experiences with Ryan Adams this song really took off into the stratosphere. It is superb, honest, brutal, true. That verse about him ‘throwing rocks around your room’ gets me in the gut every time.
Welcome to Phoebe Bridgers.
‘Ketchum, ID’ (Boygenius)
The story of ‘Ketchum, ID’, and the beginnings of boygenius as a band, will one day be musical folklore. Phoebe joined Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker in the studio one day with the beginnings of this song and insisted they weren’t going to record it – twenty minutes later, and with their collaborative writing relationship at its most fruitful, this gorgeous song was fully formed.
It’s as close as Phoebe gets to Americana. And, while Lucy Dacus might actually have my favourite verse on the song, it’s another example of what a genius writer she is.
Over to Punisher for the first time now, as we delve into one of the highlights of my favourite album of the 2020s so far. Her vocal performance is so emotionally wrought here – it is hard not to be sucked in. It also has one of the most gorgeous, gradual builds in modern music.
Too many good lyrics to mention in this one, but ‘I hate your mom/I hate it when she opens her mouth/It’s amazing to me how much you can say/When you don’t know what you’re talking about’ deserves a special mention.
We’ll slow it down a little bit for the next one. One of the more simple, beautiful, acoustic songs in Phoebe’s collection but with some gorgeous, swelling strings over the top that do so much work.
It will be hard for me to not pick out lyrics at every turn on this mixtape, but ‘Scott Street’ might have my favourite verse in any of her music:
‘I asked you how is your sister?/I heard she got her degree/I said that makes me feel old/You said what does that make me?/I asked you how was playing drums?/You said it’s too much shit to carry/And what about the band?/You said they’re all getting married.’
It’s hard to think up a better verse about the passing of time.
‘Dylan Thomas’ (Better Oblivion Community Centre)
This is as close as we get to jaunty on this mixtape, and with Better Oblivion Community Centre Phoebe nearly helped me to get past my lifelong aversion to Conor Oberst’s vocals. Nearly.
There are some great tracks on the album they put out together, but ‘Dylan Thomas’ is the standout for me. It is Phoebe at her most fun and free.
‘Nothing Else Matters’
It would have been rude not to have included at least one cover song, given that Phoebe spends a lot of time crafting and releasing them. Her version of ‘Nothing Else Matters’ by Metallica stands out to me. Partly, because I have a personal connection to the original after it was played at the funeral of a close friend of mine, but also because I think it shows a different side to her as a performer and an interpreter of someone else’s sound. There’s something playful about it that makes it addictive.
After avoiding the singles in the build up to Punisher, ‘Garden Song’ was the first full track that I heard on album release day. The muddy production and the dark story about burying a skinhead neighbour heralded a subtle but exciting change. I think this song is the perfect example of the evolution of her sound between the debut and album two, so it’s place on this mixtape was never in doubt.
‘Walking On A String’ (with Matt Berninger)
As a relentless collaborator, it is hard to say that Phoebe has a ‘best’ collaboration but this is my personal favourite.
And while The National are my favourite band and Matt Berninger one of my favourite vocalists, there can be no doubt that Phoebe owns all the best moments of this gorgeous duet. Her first words in the song are beautifully presented as she sings ‘I think about you walking on a string/It always brings me back here’ and, as we move into her next verse, there is a stunning vocal turn as she tells her singing partner that he is ‘never running out of ways to worm your way back in’.
This song has one of her best vocal performances of all.
‘Me And My Dog’ (Boygenius)
The most Phoebe-forward of the boygenius songs, everything about this one screams Bridgers – from the guitar, to the lyrics, to the story, to the powerful chorus. She’s accompanied beautifully by Dacus and Baker, though.
The second verse is an absolute stunner – from ‘I want to be emaciated’ to ‘I wish I was on a spaceship/Just me and my dog/and an impossible view’ it is utterly captivating.
‘Chinese Satellite’ (Copycat Killer version)
I’m not necessarily saying that this version of ‘Chinese Satellite’ is better than the one on Punisher (although it might be), but either version belongs in the upper echelon of Phoebe songs and I wanted to include something from this amazing EP with Rob Moose on strings. When hearing that Phoebe was releasing four songs from Punisher with string accompaniment, you would assume this was going to mean slower, more contemplative versions. But this version is somehow more active and dramatic. Another example of a great musical mind at work.
This is the first song that hooked me to Phoebe and demonstrated her genius and, maybe for that reason, it might still be my favourite. It’s a maudlin coming of age tale about facing death and depression for the first time and it is utterly, utterly gorgeous. A lyrical masterclass.
‘I Know The End’
Time to end with an absolute bang. If anyone had got to the end of this mixtape and still isn’t convinced, then it’s their loss – ‘I Know The End’ confirms Phoebe as a magician. From my favourite song in ‘Funeral’ to what has to be technically her best song so far. The build, the sweeps, the cathartic scream at the end. I can’t wait to see this song close her show in Manchester in July.
Okay, so there we have it. It feels like Phoebe has been everywhere the last couple of years, so there might not be many who haven’t already made their mind up about her. But I’d love to hear what you think? Did I convince you? Did I offend you by missing out your favourite song (‘Kyoto’, I know)? Would you use this mixtape to convince your Phoebe doubting friend of her magic?
Words by Fran Slater