Dead Oceans – 2020

A “Copycat Killer” is the titled Phoebe Bridgers bestowed upon herself in “Saviour Complex” from this years standout sophomore album Punisher. It’s a reference to the amount of influence she takes from Elliot Smith, similar to when people copy serial killers for media attention as she put it, which can be heard throughout the albums melancholic moods and lyrics. This EP however isn’t directly linked to that feeling, whereas it’s stripped back and orchestrated versions of four songs that appeared on Punisher. Recorded along side Rob Moose, who’s worked with the likes of Bon Iver, Paul Simon, Alabama Shakes, John Legend and Taylor Swift previously, this EP offers a deeply intimate take on songs that are already oozing with profound emotion.

One of the main reason that Bridgers has found an audience within the often despaired is her naturally melancholic and yet subtly beautiful voice. Whether she’s singing about never wanting “to be your vegetable” on “Chinese Satellite” or “killing you, if you don’t beat me too it” on “Kyoto”, there’s still tenderness in her voice. And this EP serves as a hugely powerful showcase of it. Most vocal takes don’t sound wildly different to those on Punisher, however without the dense layers of sound design and vibrantly rich production and instrumentation that can be found on the album then Bridgers voice truly takes a form of its own. You can hear all the subtle emotion that she puts into each lyric or verse front and centre. She’s never over reaching or trying to battle against the flurries of string melodies, instead allowing her voice to become the grounding aspect of this EP. If there’s a voice that guides you to your eventual demise, you can only hope it’s Bridgers.

There have been countless occasions over the past decade or so where classic albums or songs have been orchestrated and given the classical feel, some with their merits allowing the songs to breath a new and symphonic life, and some less so. There are moments on Copycat Killer where the instrumentation soars and serves as an emotive and devastating backing to some of Bridgers most passion filled songs. “Saviour Complex” builds up with huge layers of delicate and serene violins to feel as though they’re about to explode with emotion. It does have advantage however over other songs, as the original does feature violins crooning out the same melody, so the difference is mainly just the sound embellishments and flowing guitar, but it still sounds as sprawling as ever. The biggest difference in sound on this EP comes on “Kyoto” as the grungy guitars and driving beat are replaced with just the gliding strings. It really does bring out the true dejection of the song, emotive and enchanting, showcasing Bridgers songwriting grandeur perfectly. The original gave a bit more drive to the album that stopped it from being too slow, but now it can be appreciated in a new, perhaps freer form.

With the new cinematic sound though however there can be moments where the orchestra and instrumentation can feel like they’re going off on too far a tangent from what made the originals so crushingly captivating. The dancing piano line of the original “Punisher” is so hauntingly elegant that it does feel missed. Instead the jagged melody almost feels out of time, losing the swirling flow that the original has. And the occasional interjections of leading violins seem to be going on a journey of their own, instead of providing a backing for the vocals, and at times feel awkward and loose. And “Chinese Satellite” features plucking strings that take place of the chugging guitars that clumsily stumble out of place just to lead into the violin line that features on the original track. By sticking as close to the original as it does, it doesn’t really offer any new elements or layers to the track that can’t be found on the album.

Although this might not be the most groundbreaking accompaniment piece to an album there’s ever been, it still stands as a testament to Bridgers natural musical talent. Showcasing that in whatever scenario or soundscape, her voice will still sound as emotive and moving as ever. It’s certainly been Phoebe Bridgers fans year when it comes to new music, whether it covers or originals and this EP is yet another captivating offering in the ever expanding Bridgers catalogue.

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