On her new single “Garden Song,” Phoebe Bridgers is using her cynicism to plant a bed of flowers.
If anyone can turn the implication of murdering a skinhead into a love note, it’s Phoebe Bridgers. In the third line of her new single, “Garden Song,” she sings “And when your skinhead neighbor goes missing,” then quickly pivots to a flourishing garden she’s planted in the wake, thousands of roses blooming over quiet synths and guitar strums.
This is the first solo track that Bridgers has released since her debut album Stranger in the Alps in 2017, and it feels like her cynicism has bloomed into something more hopeful. Bridgers isn’t alone here. There’s a you she’s addressing, and we hear a subtle voice in the background throughout that isn’t hers.
In the past, Bridgers has written about a sadness that seems endless, a sadness that will always exist and anchor us downward. This comes through most clearly on her song “Funeral,” where she sings, “Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time / And that’s just how I feel / Always have and I always will / I always have and I always will.” But on “Garden Song,” this sadness doesn’t feel heavy; it instead feels like a lens to rework what’s broken.
The song lacks a proper chorus, which makes the introspection more forward-moving and inconclusive. As a listener, one expects to move toward the familiarity of a chorus, to circle back in some way, but “Garden Song” doesn’t provide this. Instead, the song simply keeps moving, so that listening to it feels like sitting in the backseat of a car, staring out as the world passes. The implication is that the car will keep moving once the song ends, as will we.
Bridgers gets her hands dirty as an investment in the future. While she never plainly states that she murders her skinhead neighbor, the implication begins the song and loops back later when she sings “Everything’s growing in our garden / You don’t have to know that it’s haunted.” Bridgers sings of a readiness to dirty her hands for the sake of something better and more beautiful. There’s no anger, only inevitability. It had to happen, and her cynicism is still present, but it has motivated action. She has resigned herself to the inaction of the powers that be, whether that be government or police--a sentiment that Bridgers writes and posts about often.
“Garden Song” is a love song in many directions. There are measures we take to protect the people we love, and she’s willing to hold and hide the violence from the person she loves. But more than being a love song to the “you,” it’s a love song to herself and the future. It focuses heavily on growing up, on getting taller, on one day looking up to a life already lived and feeling hazily satisfied with it. Near the end of the song, Bridgers sings “The doctor put her hands over my liver / She told me my resentment’s getting smaller.” The physical toll of anger and resentment is hard to pin down, but by assigning the feeling a body part and letting a doctor remark on its healing, Bridgers gives hope to not letting cynicism destroy a body.
She ends the song singing, “No, I’m not afraid of hard work / I get everything I want / I have everything I wanted,” and the world keeps passing from the window as the car keeps driving.