If you’re having a hard time absorbing any holiday cheer this year and would rather just, well, be realistic about things, you and Phoebe Bridgers are in the same boat.
The 26-year-old indie folk musician, whose record label Dead Oceans is based in Bloomington, has never been afraid to explore realism, no matter how unhappy it can be. On her sophomore album “Punisher,” which came out in June, Bridgers examines emotion like a scientist might — she neither flinches away from nor overly romanticizes the painful experiences she’s reflecting on, but rather sifts methodically through the relevant details and conversations she can’t forget.
Most recently, Bridgers released “If We Make It Through December,” a wintery collection of her past Christmas song covers. All proceeds will go to Downtown Women’s Center, a women’s shelter in Los Angeles, where Bridgers is from.
Though none of the four tracks on the Christmas extended play are originals, the solemn nature of each one makes her spot-on song choice startlingly reflective of 2020’s bleakness. Additionally, Bridgers managed to put her own moody, forlorn twist on each of them, making this EP the perfect cap to a year gone sour.
Bridgers’ version of “If We Make it Through December” by Merle Haggard is the only new cover off this EP, which came out late November. It’s a timeless portrait of how Christmastime isn’t necessarily merry for those who struggle to make ends meet, a concept that has been duly pronounced by the economic disparities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On her rendition of “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night,” released last year, she and Fiona Apple sing the holiday classic’s serene lyrics while Matt Berninger of The National plays the part of the newscaster, reading off news stories about police officer sexting scandals and U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment. These headlines are an update to Simon & Garfunkel’s original, which included news stories from the 1960s.
You aren’t able to hear the news bulletin if you remove your right earbud, which is possibly to show how easy it is to ignore the disheartening parts of reality to focus instead on the cheerful, “peace and goodwill toward men” theme of Christmas — no matter how antithetical it is to what’s actually going on.
“Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House Chief of Staff, threw the Trump administration's defense against impeachment into disarray on Thursday when he said that the White House withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to further Mr. Trump's political interests,” Berlinger reports drearily over Bridgers’ breathy vocals. “And that’s the 7 O’Clock News.”
Mccarthy Trenching’s “Christmas Song” is a somber reminder that the facade of holiday cheer can be a trap for those who are suffering. Afraid to disrupt the joy of others, mentally unwell people feel like they have no one to confide in during the holiday season.
“You don't have to be alone to be lonesome, it's so easy to forget,” Bridgers sings. “And sadness comes crashing like a brick through a window, and it’s Christmas so no one can fix it.”
Make no mistake, though — Bridgers is not completely joyless. This EP isn’t a devil’s advocate play at making Christmas depressing for no reason. Through her song selection, she’s simply presenting a view of the holiday that’s easier to swallow for people who struggle more to ignore their difficult circumstances.
This is evidenced by the last song of the EP, the renowned Judy Garland tune, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” The famous lyrics, which Bridgers delivers beautifully, advocate for love, family and friendship in spite of all that’s painful.
“Someday soon, we all will be together if the fates allow,” she sings. “Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”