A Very She & Him Christmas is a wonderful collection of festive tunes from two of music's most impressive artists - Zooey Deschanel (She) & M. Ward (Him). Inspired by seminal seasonal albums by the likes of The Carpenters, Vince Guaraldi, The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley and more, She & Him have set out to create an intimate recording of Christmas classics that help bring new emotions out of old songs. Recorded in Los Angeles and NYC at various points in 2011, A Very She & Him Christmas sees the duo stepping back slightly from the layered, lush aesthetic of their critically acclaimed second album, Volume Two. On A Very She & Him Christmas, Deschanel and Ward let the songs speak for themselves, often recording them with just acoustic guitar and vocals. Consistent in everything are the elements that have made She & Him one of the most loved bands of the last few years - Deschanel's soulful vocal delivery and Ward's impressive guitar work, both sounding as timeless as!
In recent years Christmas albums from indie stars have veered from the engagingly bleak (Bright Eyes’ A Christmas Album) to the wonderfully whimsical (Sufjan Stevens’ Songs for Christmas). A Very She & Him Christmas finds M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel offer up something slightly different in form but no less sincere, despite its jokey cover photo. In thrall to Yuletide offerings by the likes of Elvis Presley and The Beach Boys and strongly coloured by the duo’s admiration of classic 50s through 70s sounds, it was perhaps an inevitable release for a band like She & Him, and it fits their aesthetic to a tee.
This isn’t the first time Deschanel has dabbled in festive fare, mind. As love interest for Will Ferrell in 2003’s sweet comedy Elf, she provides the film its very own Christmas miracle through the medium of song. The film was a huge success, balancing its humour with unchecked enthusiasm for its themes and deep affection for its characters (even those who resided on the ‘naughty list’). And if you’re willing to brush aside your cynicism and embrace your inner Christmas spirit, you’ll find more of the same here, the profits of which will partly support literary organisation 826 National.
It does, of course, sound more or less like how you’d expect a Christmas album from She & Him to sound. Although less expansive than the pair’s well-received Volume Two LP, it is equally lush – Ward’s guitar work as subtle and refined as ever, Deschanel’s pretty, earthy voice well suited to the standards on offer. The Christmas Waltz opens proceedings in sparse, acoustic style, Ward takes the lead on Christmas Wish, while Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas hangs off a treble-heavy electric, introducing dreamy backing vocals into the fold.
A Very She & Him Christmas isn’t about to change anybody’s world, and there’s little on here that will sway detractors of the pair. There are moments, inevitably, when it tips a little too wholeheartedly into schmaltz and sentiment (Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree is the most obvious culprit). The sensitive re-imaginings of Silver Bells, Little Saint Nick and Blue Christmas are a far better fit, and the call and response vocals of Baby, It’s Cold Outside are playful and lovely. There’s plenty to raise a smile over these 12 songs, and that’s no doubt exactly what She & Him intended from them. --James Skinner
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