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  • Genre:


  • Label:

    Dead Oceans

  • Reviewed:

    November 27, 2020

The songwriter’s new EP reimagines four tracks from her recent album Punisher with devastating orchestral arrangements that bring her voice into dramatic focus.

During the hellish week that we waited for the results of the U.S. presidential election, Phoebe Bridgers promised that if Trump lost, she would cover “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. Her pledge felt partly like earnest emotional bargaining and partly like a joke, but when Bridgers, joined by Maggie Rogers, released the cover the following week, it was clear she took the challenge seriously: Bridgers’ “Iris” transformed the alt-rock power anthem into a twangy, hushed plea for belonging. Her cover felt a bit like a teaser for Copycat Killer, a new EP of reworked songs from this summer’s excellent album Punisher. It would have been easy to replicate the plucky folk of her debut, 2017’s Stranger in the Alps, but instead, she and arranger and string player Rob Moose (who has worked with Bon Iver, Taylor Swift, and FKA twigs) reimagine four songs as devastating orchestral arrangements.

Like an auditory bokeh effect, Copycat Killer places Bridgers’ voice in dramatic focus, causing the emotional heft of the songs to balloon. Excavated from layers of watery distortion, every lyric lingers in the air as she sings about losing friends, searching for signs of an afterlife, resisting emotional vampires, and managing her savior complex. The strings elevate the vocal drama, swooping and majestic one moment, percussive and anxious the next. Without Punisher’s twinkling production flourishes and array of friends’ voices, there are no distractions. Listening to Copycat Killer all at once feels like waking up from an evening nap or entering a movie theater in daylight and leaving in the dark. You’re nourished but also disoriented, limbs tingling as they recalibrate to the outside world.

Kyoto,” originally written as a ballad, is most beautifully transformed. The Punisher version was propelled by a whimsical trumpet section and synth line, mirroring Bridgers’ restless lyrics about travelling in Japan but missing California. On this version, her gossamer vocals bring other aspects of the song to the forefront: the father who forgets his son’s birthday, the flailing attempts to stop loving someone you know will continue to hurt you. On “Savior Complex,” another highlight, the original string section expands effortlessly, cellos filling the song with foreboding. The final words—“All the bad dreams that you hide/Show me yours”—feel more menacing than empathetic.

Bridgers’ songs are so devastating because she plays both hero and villain, creating a Möbius strip of virtues (like selflessness) that twist into flaws (like savior complexes). Rarely is there a feeling of catharsis or righteousness, especially on Copycat Killer, where the paralyzing angst and introspection feels so stark. Yet the EP ends on a quietly hopeful note. After setting a crisis of faith to heart-pounding strings on a new version of “Chinese Satellite,” Bridgers closes with “Punisher,” an ode to her idol, Elliott Smith. Though delivered with the same agonizing intimacy as the rest, at its heart, it’s a song about connection. “What if I told you I feel like I know you/But we never met,” she ventures cautiously, finding reassurance in Smith’s generosity and talent without ever having witnessed it firsthand—the very definition of faith. Meaning doesn’t always come from institutions or scriptures, but from the heroes we pick for ourselves.

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Phoebe Bridgers: Copycat Killer EP