Thursday, November 26, 2020

Review: Copycat Killer – Phoebe Bridgers

‘A copycat killer with a chemical cut / Either I’m careless or I wanna get caught’. These lines from Phoebe Bridgers’ track ‘Punisher’ belong to the LP of the same name, released just deep enough into lockdown to make the sadgirls within us all weep just a little bit. Now, these same words feature on Copycat Killer, the spinoff EP; Punisher’s companion piece; the second panel of Bridgers’ stucco diptych.

It’s both grand and quiet, softer than its predecessor but more concentrated, more specific. Pared down to some of Punisher’s quieter hits (and ‘Kyoto’), album singles such as ‘Garden Song’ and ‘ICU’ are notably absent. Still, the EP is pretty glorious – and kind of pretentious – but as a spartan composition of only Bridgers’ vocals and accompanying strings, it needs to be. How else would it live up to Rob Moose’s insistence on it being ‘played at [Bridgers’] funeral’?


The reserved accompaniment makes Copycat Killer seem vaster, more spacious; instantly, listeners are displaced to the same broad plane of beach Bridgers is pictured on in the album art, in her go-to skele-suit. it’s a less saturated sound. Here was I thinking that Bridgers’ music couldn’t get more evocative.


Moose, who has previously worked with Surfjan Stevens, Bon Iver, and The National, is behind the reworking of Punisher’s arrangements. The EP indeed moves away from the (literal) fanfare of the original ‘Kyoto’ track, instead encouraging listeners to focus on Bridgers’ melancholy lilts and half-serious half-sardonic lyrics. It’s a thoughtful reworking, but there’s nothing ground-breaking here. Punisher was already excellent – a highlight of 2020 – and the nuances of the re-recorded tracks on Copycat Killer will not be lost on fans of Bridgers’ work, but this is just that – a repackaging of something already accomplished and complete. Of course, the EP itself acknowledges this, as a ‘copycat’ of the LP.


The most substantial changes feature on ‘Kyoto’, which was the one high(er) tempo track on Punisher, as ‘Motion Sickness’ was on Bridgers’ debut album, Stranger in the Alps. The Moose version of ‘Chinese Satellite’ promises more in its opening, before reverting in its chorus to a near-identical composition of the original track, and back again to the opening riffs. There could have been more here; ‘Chinese Satellite’ has the capacity for something more orchestral, which, again, Moose’s arrangement teases at towards the end of ‘Savior Complex’.


I just can’t help but think that ‘ICU’ would’ve lent itself to a pretty special accompaniment on this EP, and I’d implore you to think about how the crescendo of ‘This is the End’ could’ve sounded with Moose’s strings. And yeah, I get it, Copycat Killer is a movement away from the noise of Punisher – it’s more introspective. Of all the tracks on the EP, ‘Saviour Complex’ features the most interesting marriage of deep Punisher moodiness and elevated, dancing strings. Bridgers calls out ‘call me when you land’, and the strings immediately call back. Similarly, the arrangement on ‘Punisher’ dances playfully around the lines ‘what if I told you / I feel like I know you?’ – maybe I’m greedy, but I just wanted more of this.


The instrumental before the final lines of ‘Savior Complex’ thrusts us into a kind of classical dreamscape, realms away from the commerciality experienced in popular music or even the offbeat indie cynicism of Bridgers’ usual work – it’s just on a higher plane. Copycat Killer is a distillation, a musing on the tones and capabilities of Bridgers’ lyricism and her sound, allowing listeners to view these tracks from different angles, in different lights. And maybe it’s best that it’s only four songs and scarcely twelve minutes long, ending with the soft irony of Bridgers’ lines, ‘Wouldn’t know where to start / Wouldn’t know when to stop’.

 - Lula Roberts


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