Phoebe Bridgers, whose 2017 debut album was grounded in erudite mopery, takes flight this summer. Well, in a quarantine-safe way. Today, the 25-year-old SoCal artist announced that her sophomore album “Punisher” will be out June 19 via Dead Oceans. With that news comes the album’s sprightly new single, “Kyoto,” a song she wrote after her first trip to Japan in early 2019.
If the up-tempo, horn-splashed “Kyoto” is a contrast to the solemn paeans and intimate confessionals on “Stranger in the Alps,” it’s understandable. A lot has happened since 2017. She joined up with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus for the Boygenius EP in 2018. Then she teamed up with Conor Oberst as Better Oblivion Community Center for a highly regarded album. She also lent her vocals to the National’s Matt Berninger on his solo single “Walking on a String,” did a holiday single with Berninger and Fiona Apple, sang on one of Ethan Gruska’s singles and, just last week, materialized on The 1975’s song “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America.”
She says she wrote “Kyoto” as a ballad at first, but “I was so sick of recording slow songs, it turned into this.
“This song is about impostor syndrome,” she says. “About being in Japan for the first time, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, and playing my music to people who want to hear it, feeling like I’m living someone else’s life. I dissociate when bad things happen to me, but also when good things happen. It can feel like I’m performing what I think I’m supposed to be like.”
Plans were for the “Kyoto” video to be shot last month in Japan, but the COVID-19 shutdown scotched that. So the singer-songwriter was filmed on a green screen, with director Nina Ljeti (also the frontwoman of the L.A. rock band Kills Birds) plopping Bridgers’ merry frolicking on various scenes from Japan. Like a lot of things in the coronavirus era, it’s simulated fun. (She’ll perform the song from her bathroom for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” tonight.)
Like her first album, “Punisher” was made with producers Tony Berg and Gruska and mixed by Mike Mogis. She’s backed by her band — drummer Marshall Vore, guitarist Harrison Whitford, bassist Emily Restas and keyboardist Nick White — and also has a formidable roster of guests. That’s Bright Eyes’ Nate Walcott on horns on “Kyoto,” which features Warpaint’s Jenny Lee Lindberg as well. Also contributing: Oberst, Dacus, Baker and legendary drummer Jim Keltner on two songs apiece; Blake Mills on three songs; Christian Lee Hutson on four; and Nick Zinner on the album closer, “I Know the End.”
||| Watch: The video for “Kyoto”