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How to listen to ‘Copycat Killer’ — a melancholy student’s guide

Phoebe Bridgers and arranger Rob Moose revamp four songs off of “Punisher”

A talented lyricist and indie favorite, Phoebe Bridgers worked with Rob Moose to rework four songs off her 2020 album "Punisher" on her new EP, "Copycat Killer."
A talented lyricist and indie favorite, Phoebe Bridgers worked with Rob Moose to rework four songs off her 2020 album "Punisher" on her new EP, "Copycat Killer."

Phoebe Bridgers has long been recognized as a talented lyricist and is certainly an expert at getting her audience deep into their emotions. On her latest artistic endeavor — revamping four songs off of her sophomore album, “Punisher,” from this year — the lyrics do not so much change as acclaimed arranger Rob Moose’s accompanying instrumentals provide a translation for the world of COVID-19 melancholy. As Moose’s rich and haunting strings fill the background and resonate bone-deep, Bridgers in turn vulnerably lays out her gossamer voice alongside her lyrics. This new background allows for those frequently mentioned ghosts and skeletons wading in the back vocals — and at times muffled lyrics — of “Punisher” to come stumbling into the forefront of the new EP, “Copycat Killer.” There is so much more room for attentive listening on “Copycat Killer.” Lines that originally slipped away from focus were suddenly glaring and unignorable in our age of online introductions and Zoom farewells. 

If you are desperately sad about the moments lost due to a mostly online semester, or if you are leaving Charlottesville to go back home and are feeling melancholy and in need of a few sad songs to help you cope — Bridgers’ and Moose’s collaboration on “Copycat Killer” is made for you. The four tracks clock in at just under 13 minutes and are the perfect combination of open strings and breathy vocals to welcome you into gray weather skies and the oddly invasive experience of returning home for the winter — or at least leaving behind your school routine of the fall. 

So, to prime you for a full-body listening experience — what Bridgers and Moose deserve on this EP — here is a complete breakdown of which liminal space and state of mind you ought to be in to properly enjoy the four songs revamped on “Copycat Killer.”

While it’s the last song on the EP, “Punisher” is where you should start. This is certainly a goodbye song, perhaps to this odd fall semester, perhaps to the new friends you’ve only ever interacted with at a distance or maybe to the version of yourself you imagined you’d evolve into this semester. Accompanied by Bridgers’ soul-seeking vocals and Moose’s gentle yet expressive strings, this song is best for the moment after you say goodbye to what you’ve known this semester.

Liminal Space: When you say “goodbye” to someone, but you walk in the same direction.

State of Mind: Disillusioned, but somehow still hopeful.

Lyrical Shoutout: “What if I told you I feel like I know you / But we never met?”

Up next, “Savior Complex” — Moose’s haunting strings come to the forefront in this track, fully embodying both the beautiful and the eerie. There’s a sense of urgency to the violins behind Bridgers’ soft vocals, culminating with the dissonance at the end of the track. Bridgers and Moose expertly bring out the slightly menacing anxiety lost in the gentle guitar strums off of the original album. This song is perfect for the sadness and frustration that accompany preparing to leave your space and friends behind in the middle of a pandemic.

Liminal Space: Doing laundry and putting your wet clothes into the dryer, but you drop your favorite shirt on the floor.

State of Mind: Wistful, longing.

Lyrical Shoutout: “Drift off on the floor”

“Chinese Satellite” takes a different spin. The cello is choppy for the first minute and a half, like a translation of the song’s original form on “Punisher.” Even when the minor chords of the violins and violas come in, it manages to feel a bit more upbeat. It is certainly perfect for the plane, car or train ride home no matter what you are leaving behind. This song epitomizes leaning your head against a cool window until your cheek goes numb while tapping your feet anxiously against the floor. 

Liminal Space: Passing by your hometown’s highschool.

State of Mind: Nostalgic, restless.

Lyrical Shoutout: “I want to believe / . . . / I want to go home.”

Finally, “Kyoto” — a track the New York Times described as Bridgers’ begrudging experiment in writing a rock song on “Punisher.” On “Copycat Killer,” Bridgers finally gets the chance to showcase the track as the haunting ballad she mastered the art of long ago. As Bridgers described it in her Instagram post announcing the EP, “Rob [Moose] says [this version of Kyoto] should be played at my funeral” — enough said.

Liminal Space: Walking over the Dairy Road Pedestrian Bridge in Charlottesville and seeing all of the cars rush by beneath you.

State of Mind: Frustrated, resigned.

Lyrical Shoutout: “I wanted to see the world / Through your eyes until it happened / Then I changed my mind.”

Enjoy “Copycat Killer,” but definitely listen alongside the full album, “Punisher,” to fully absorb the moody vibes — and to bask in Bridgers’ lyrical prowess, of course.

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