From Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” to Diamond Rings’ “Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant” to Merle Haggard’s “If We Make it Through December,” the holiday season has long served as a perfectly-fitting template for songs of the sad-sack variety. “I don’t mean to hate December,” Haggard sang on the latter, “it’s meant to be the happy time of year.” Christmastime gives songwriters already prone to deep despair an occasion to indulge their most morose tendencies, an excuse to provide a much-needed counter to the season’s otherwise incessantly cheery tone by running wild with mistletoe misery.
Enter Phoebe Bridgers, the fast-rising singer-songwriter who has made grand gloom her calling card more effectively than any West coast songwriter since her idol Elliott Smith. Bridgers’ slowed-down cover of “Christmas Song,” originally by Nebraska folkies McCarthy Trenching, leans into December desolation with conviction: “Sadness comes crashing like a brick through the window,” she sings, with help from fellow L.A. sadster Jackson Browne, over a mix of electric piano, sleigh bells and strings, “and it’s Christmas, so no one can fix it.”
But by the time the final grand sing-along chorus comes around, it sounds like an entire block of lonesome Christmas carolers who’ve mercifully found their people. “You don’t have to be alone to be lonesome,” a swell of voices cry out, merging their solitude into something that sounds like togetherness, “it’s easy to forget.”