By Zoe Clare Solomon
Building on the critical success of her sophomore album Punisher, November saw Indie Rock singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers release two EPs ahead of her four Grammy nominations for the 2021 awards show.
Bridgers’ EP Copycat Killer, released on 20th November, contains four songs from her second album reimagined in collaboration with string composer Rob Moore, followed only three days later by her EP If We Make It Through December, consisting of four Christmas covers, one recorded each year since 2017.
After its release in June, Punisher received widespread critical acclaim, and the arrangements featured on Copycat Killer remind us not only why the original songs deserve the attention they have received, but also of her musical dexterity.
Copycat Killer opens with ‘Kyoto’, but rather than its charismatic Indie Rock sound, supplemented by distorted vocals and brass, we are met with atmospheric instrumental strings and Bridgers’ haunting vocals which wind back and forth around the tonal centre. The strings’ reharmonisation quietly builds in texture and volume in correspondence with the song’s emotional power, further enhanced by the lack of distortion that allows for a very personal sound at the expense of the original’s distinctive forward drive.
Her remix of ‘Punisher’, the album’s title track, received the most detailed instrumental treatment on the EP. Beginning with unaccompanied vocals, Bridgers continues with the atmospheric string effects that define Copycat Killer. However, the orchestration becomes distinctly more complex, with the use of a variety of techniques and timbres that are rarely heard within contemporary pop music. ‘Punisher’ does not settle, instead circling around a series of timbral ideas that reflect the song’s lyrical and melodic structure.
Bridgers annually releases her own take on a classic Christmas single, and If We Make It Through December is a compilation of her last three covers, plus one new one. Her cover of Merle Haggard’s ‘If We Make It Through December’ (1973) not only confirms her ability to transform any song into her quietly melancholic acoustic but also reveals the influence of American country music on her sound. It is reminiscent of the third track, her 2018 cover of McCarthy Trenching’s ‘Christmas Song’ (2008), which is again a subdued renewal of American folk music for the next generation. All proceeds from the EP will go to the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, which exclusively supports homeless women in the city.
The second track on the EP is her 2019 cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘7 O’Clock News / Silent Night’. The original is an interesting, politically charged arrangement that plays an adapted cover of a traditional Christmas carol on top of 7pm news about Martin Luther King and President Nixon in 1966. Bridgers’ version brings the track abruptly into a modern context by giving it instrumentation and vocal effects characteristic of current Indie music whilst using a 7pm news report from 2019. Her arrangement also features Fiona Apple and The National’s Matt Berninger.
‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, the last song on the EP, was the first recorded by Bridgers in 2017. A guitar accompaniment reminiscent of Jeff Buckley and almost inaudible percussion provides the basis for a reverb-heavy cover of the jazz standard that couldn’t be more suited to the subdued Christmas celebrations faced in 2020.
Phoebe Bridgers has showcased her idiosyncratic Indie sound throughout a number of projects this year that would be a challenge for any young musician, but she has risen accordingly. Beloved by listeners across the globe, her nominations for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards 2021 are well deserved, and we can expect more exciting projects from her in the new year. Bridgers will be in the running for four categories; ‘Best New Artist’, ‘Best Rock Performance’ for ‘Kyoto’, ‘Best Rock Song’ for ‘Kyoto’, and ‘Best Alternative Music Album’ for Punisher.
Image: Phoebe Bridgers in July 2018, at the Crocodile in Seattle by David Lee via Wikimedia Creative Commons