Review: Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘If We Make It Through December’ EP

Mila Ottevanger argues that Bridgers’ Christmas-themed release is a fitting way to mark the end of 2020

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Coming off the post-apocalyptic scream that concluded Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers’ 2020 album (my favourite album this year, and possibly ever), the muted buzz of If We Make It Through December acts as a tender balm, and a gentle denouement. If the final throes of Punisher felt like the manifestation of the hellish first six months of the year (it was released in June), this release – as well as her Bandcamp fundraiser cover of The Goo Goo Dolls’ ‘Iris’ with Maggie Rogers, released in November to celebrate the result of the American election, and the strings-oriented Copycat Killer EP, remixing songs from Punisher – seem like the intake of breath afterwards, surveying the rest of the year that nonetheless still stretches out in front of us. A very artistically appropriate accident of the June release date.

On this record, her cover of Merle Haggard’s country song is bundled together with her previous Christmas releases into an extremely potent mix; there is a 2019 cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Silent Night/7 O’Clock News’, but the news in question is now a report covering (amongst other things, such as burgeoning abortion restriction and impeachment) the murder of Botham Jean by his police officer downstairs neighbour when she broke into his apartment, which was international news in 2019 and particularly potent to hear this year, to be reminded of the long, long list of Black victims of police violence. ‘Christmas Song,’ a cover of another country song (this time by McCarthy Trenching) follows, and the EP is concluded by the haunting, ‘Hallelujah’-esque ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.’ Like Jeff Buckley before her, Bridgers proves herself a loving melder of previous songs and styles; both select unexpected songs to cover (her country songs, and his Nina Simone and Benjamin Britten) and both manage to bend them to their own voices and styles without compromising the essence of them. 

Bridgers’ decision to release these covers as one record distils the last four years flawlessly and creates a genuinely heartrending resonance and cathartic release. The repeated arpeggio really stands out on this entire release, its fractured nature suggesting at once atomised individuality, and also a wider structure which creates unity on the EP as a whole. It underlines the isolation of this year whilst also reiterating our relation to each other. Bridgers’ hushed vocals lend the tracks the feeling of a lullaby, hastening the end of the year and the wish of a calmer 2021, and the slow and gentle pace of the whole EP, bursting out only once on its third track, seems to embrace this hope, though in a melancholy and reflective mood. Bridgers sings, at her loudest: “you don’t have to be alone to be lonesome” and (whether this track was recorded in 2018 or not) it feels like a sign of the times as we dissect our relationships with others. The quiet wash of percussion on the last song thrums along with swooping theremin and heavy reverb, expanding the space in which you are listening. She is next to you, and the world is wide. You can see the wintry grey skies and silhouettes of stark branches.

This release concludes an electric year for Phoebe fans, one in which we have been endlessly lucky. This is the deeply emotional conclusion to a tumultuous year which does not shy away from the context of its production, forging a strong relationship with it both explicitly and in the general tone, encapsulating the hopes and fears of the last few years.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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