The cover of Phoebe Bridgers’s new single “Garden Song” depicts the singer-songwriter smiling in a skeleton costume, her arms raised and her shadow cast behind her by a spotlight, the entire image evocative of the endearing campiness of childhood horror stories. Clearly, in “Garden Song” Bridgers remains obsessed with many of the same motifs that haunt her 2017 album “Stranger in the Alps.” Once again, she is drawn to childhood, the looming presence of death, and the failures of memory and communication. While the images of “Garden Song” seem like familiar territory for a Phoebe Bridgers song, this familiarity is perfectly-suited to a piece that revolves so closely around the idea of revisiting old memories and dreams. “Garden Song” seems less concerned with rooting us in any one moment than it is with flitting through a compilation of each instant so they all brush past at once.
The ebb and flow between the guitar and kick drum and the low-dubbing of Bridgers’s voice (sung by her tour manager) both contribute to a trance-like sonic quality that matches the warped sense of time central to the song. In the first rendition of the chorus, Bridgers expresses surprise at the passage of time, singing “I don’t know when you got taller / See our reflection in the water.” As the chorus repeats, she completely rejects aging as a natural progression, proposing some kind of magic as the most plausible explanation. The lines become: “I don’t know how but I’m taller / it must be something in the water.” One verse after returning to the house where she “grew up,” the 25-year-old sings, “And when I grow up…. It’s gonna be just like my recurring dream.” Bridgers is both grown and still growing, both remembering and reliving. We get a sense of the passage of time as a dream we’ll wake up from to experience again and again. In this way, “Garden Song” functions as a kind of Edenic refuge from the laws of mortality. When Bridgers sings “Everything’s growing in our garden,” she evokes the comforting sense of all your lived experiences blooming side by side, carefully sheltered. However, the following line, “You don’t have to know that it’s haunted,” hints at this refuge as merely a willful ignorance of death. There’s an undeniable elegiac tone throughout “Garden Song,” not only in the skeleton costume Bridgers wears on the cover, but also in the way she leads us through the stages of her recurring dream — as one recalling her life in its final moments. In the last two lines of the song, when “I get everything I want” shifts to “I have everything I wanted,” it’s impossible not to hear a twinge of dissatisfaction as Bridgers places her desires in the past, and the song ends.
The music video reflects this sense of the song as a temporary — but sweet — suspension of disbelief in a haze of childhood memories. The video starts with a forlorn Bridgers sitting alone on her bedroom floor in pyjamas. She takes a long rip from a bong before singing the entire song seated in front of the camera, as if vlogging. Throughout the video, pot smoke continues to fill the room, the lights shift colors, and different characters join and leave Bridgers’s side in a hazy whirlwind, costumed as if out of a children’s book or at a Halloween party. At the end, when the smoke dissipates and the lights settle, Bridgers, alone once again, climbs into bed and buries her face in her pillow. With that, she captures an escape into memory, through a recording that can be played again and again without change.
— Staff writer Marie A. Ungar can be reached at email@example.com.