In an age where honest to God rock stars are in somewhat short supply, Phoebe Bridgers is embodying every aspect of a breakthrough artist. Even people who don’t listen to rock music are beginning to become aware of who Phoebe Bridgers is, whether through her guitar smashing discourse, her pair ups with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, her appearance on Ziwe doing ASMR, or, you know, her actual music.
Last year’s album Punisher was the moment that Bridgers stepped into the spotlight. Deeply personal in nature, the project provided direct insight into a phenomenally talented artist who is just beginning to find the signature aspects of her voice and sound. It contained a number of fantastic songs, like the poppy ‘Kyoto’ and the spacey ‘Moon Song’, but it’s the album’s final track that firmly established the ongoing legend that is Phoebe Bridgers.
‘I Know The End’ starts in a place that many songs have their genesis in: a breakup. “I was breaking up with my drummer,” Bridgers explains. “We dated for a long time and he brought this guitar line and the ‘I know, I know, I know’, just kind of about break up acceptance.” While songs about lost love are a dime a dozen, rarely do they take on the apocalyptic scope that ‘I Know The End’ is shrouded in. As it turns out, that feeling came from three years of tinkering and change.
When it formed into its final state, ‘I Know The End’ wound up being a travelogue on how depressing the touring lifestyle can be, a regretful ode to a burned-out relationship, and an embrace of the final moment both literal and figurative. One of the major contributors to the track was Conor Oberst, legendary songwriter and frontman for Bright Eyes, who not only contributed to the song’s blend of voices but also helped steer Bridgers lyrical ideas of sunsets and swing sets.
“When I get too close to people, I start to treat them like my parents, where you just say stuff to them that you don’t even realise is in you,” Bridgers comments about the song’s second verse. “You don’t even have to really do that much to make up sometimes because both people wanna make up, but you know you’re being a dick, and you don’t have to admit that you’re being a dick.”
By the second chorus, as images of sirens and tornados engulf the song, the apocalyptic feeling really starts to kick in and bring the song to the start of its steadily crescendoing finale. Just like Icarus, Bridgers ideal way to go out is flying directly into the sun. “Went looking for a creation myth/Ended up with a pair of cracked lips.” After a brief nod to pop-country in the form of acknowledging its idiotic and thinly-veiled racism, Bridgers is back on the righteous path through the recesses of paranoid and sceptical rural America.
As the song barrels more and more intensely into its conclusion, Bridgers repeats the final lines of “the end is near” before launching into series of guttural screams as the last remnants of humanity combust and swirl around her. Those screams were actually some of the first ideas brought to Punisher. “I kind of worked back from that and brought meaning to that.”
When the dust settles, ‘I Know The End’ stands as one of the most potent and stirring album closers of recent memory. Combining her more delicate and aggressive vocal stylings together with an arrangement that sprawls and builds to a highly emotional peak, ‘I Know The End’ presents Bridgers as an artist with vision, looking beyond individual elements and focusing how a song like this can have the maximum amount on impact, both on its own and within the larger context of Punisher.