Track Review: Day After Tomorrow // Phoebe Bridgers

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For this year’s annual charity Christmas cover, Phoebe Bridgers returns with a rendition of Tom Waits’ ‘Day After Tomorrow’. Bridgers makes 2021 the fifth year she has released a philanthropic festive single. This time, she is donating all proceeds from the track to the International Institute of Los Angeles – an organisation that works to create stability for immigrants, refugees, and survivors of human trafficking.

‘Day After Tomorrow’, was originally written by Tom Waits, one year into the Iraq War. The track’s lyrics are meant to be the words of an imaginary soldier writing back to his family in Illinois. Replacing the gravelly tone of the rock legend, Bridgers brings a crisper account of the tale’s tragedy with a more fleshed-out accompaniment to the track.

The opening piano line sounds like slightly tipsy comping attempted by a bloated relative after a Christmas meal. Twinkling bells pop up at points, contributing to a more festive feel despite its continually bleak lyrics. The track also features a large angelic choir that includes actress Kaitlyn Dever, Mumford and Son’s frontman Marcus Mumford, and some of Bridgers’ frequent collaborators such as Ethan Gruska and Harrison Whitford.

Adding to a Christmas discography that is more mournful than merry, Bridgers’ choice of an anti-War track in 2021 isn’t lost on listeners. The lyrics, “I’ll be 21 today”, evokes the haunting memory of the 13 soldiers killed in the Kabul Airport Attacks, with five 20-year-olds dying in a conflict older than they were.

Yet the devastation and fears of war are not reserved solely for the US, as the track points out the futility of conflict. Looking at the non-Western casualties and refugees that projects such as the International Institute of Los Angeles seek to help, the track exposes the often forgotten or vilified victims of war. A killer existentialist question is posed mid-song, “don’t they pray / To the same god that we do? / And tell me how does God choose? Whose prayers does he refuse,” asks Bridgers. 

The song doesn’t naturally lend itself to festivity but Bridgers makes ‘Day After Tomorrow’ a Christmas song, both musically and morally. In the spirit of giving, she can be seen to have spread joy to her fans via new music and goodwill to those looking to start new lives in California.

Words by Celia Bergin


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