Holiday Album Buyers’ Guide, Part 1: A Very She & Him Christmas

[‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving and all throughout the Southland, people tuned their car radios to KOST 103.5 FM, and let the Christmas tunes fly. Yes sir, it’s the time of year to hate holiday songs! You’re getting sick of hearing another rendition of “Sleigh Ride” or “Jingle Bell Rock,” and you grate from the insufferable cheer of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” being played for the hundredth time, from every single store and station. Don’t fear, this three-part buyers’ guide is here to save you and your holiday. Of the many holiday albums that go on sale every December, the three I present span different genres, for any holiday mood or occasion.]

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A Very She & Him Christmas
She & Him
Merge Records, 2011

I’ll start off with my most conventional selection: A Very She & Him Christmas. Actress Zooey Deschanel and indie folk singer-songwriter Mike Ward (M. Ward) have been making music as She & Him since meeting together on the set for The Go-Getter, and have been honing their cute and sunny blend of 50s doo-wop, 60s rock-and-roll, and laid-back 70s Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter rock that have endeared them to the nouvelle vintage hipster crowd since 2008. Third time’s the charm as the “professionally adorkable,” “Instagram-folk” duo brought their chart-topping brand of twee indie pop to the heights of the holiday season with A Very She & Him Christmas in 2011. Apparently, that worked so well they’ve released a new holiday album, Christmas Party, this year through Columbia Records.

While their previous albums burst forth with sunny acoustic guitars, twinkling pianos, and chiming electrics, A Very She & Him Christmas is sparingly yet spaciously arranged, oftentimes featuring either Deschanel or Ward on vocals and usually guitar, which can make for unassuming background music while also imparting a bittersweet melancholia. Case in point: album opener “The Christmas Waltz.” As Deschanel, “in three-quarter time, wishes you and yours” a very Merry Christmas, Ward’s solo fingerpicked guitar makes for a very slow and mellow waltz, while the reverb of Deschanel’s contralto feels like a coffeeshop’s old AM radio at closing time. This poignancy comes across strongest on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” where Deschanel’s earthly crooning, angelic organ, and Ward’s sparse electric guitar belie the lyrics’ joyous sentiments. These tracks are the aural equivalent of viewing snowfall through a window on Christmas Eve midnight: lonely, yet beautiful and calming.

Don’t despair—there are plenty of festive tunes to be had on this album. “Sleigh Ride” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” embody the same deconstructionist approach, but the combination of drums and guitar adds a homespun feel that rarely detracts from its ebullient bounce. The Beach Boys’ “Christmas Day” sways and swings as Deschanel’s double-tracked harmonies add some sunshine, while their ukulele-centered take on “Little Saint Nick” adds a tropical tinge that’ll brighten up a cold Christmas evening (or a sunny Californian Christmas). The straightforward renditions and conventional song selection make A Very She & Him Christmas one of the safer choices for soundtracking your holiday party, while the sparse arrangements create a bittersweet yet beautiful mix of pensive and festive moods upon closer listening.

A Very She & Him Christmas are both available for streaming on your preferred platform (Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL, etc.), and as a digital download, CD, or vinyl from your favorite retailer or direct from Merge Records!

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