Indie rock covers of holiday songs are plentiful enough (those YouTube channels and Bandcamp pages have got to get filled up somehow) that I’m amazed it’s taken this long for a prominent artist to take a pass at “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night.” Simon and Garfunkel’s melding of that tenderest of class Christmas ballads with a simulated evening newscast first appeared on the 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.
The harsh juxtaposition found in the sound collage must have been absolutely mind-blowing for the era. If the structure feels more familiar now, the basics of the song couldn’t be more fitting our information-drenched age and day, when any attempt to retreat into the familiar safety of lifelong ritual is painfully disrupted by the relentless intrusion of horrible bulletins of police violence and government malfeasance. In this new version, Phoebe Bridgers harmonizes on the song with Fiona Apple, their voices blending elegantly, as Matt Berninger, frontman for the National, calmly reads off new stories of society erosion. It’s beautiful and brutal at the same time.
Maybe best of all, the song is part of the 7-Inches for Planned Parenthood project that Berninger helped launch. Any profits generated by this track are going straight to a vitally needed health care organization that, by one measure, has served around twenty percent of women in the U.S. It’s the season of giving, and few organization are more deserving (and, because they’re regularly pilloried by the opportunistic jackals of the right wing, more in need) than Planned Parenthood.