Release Date: Oct 25, 2011
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Pop, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
On A Very She & Him Christmas, professionally adorkable New Girl star Zooey Deschanel reunites with Portland folkie M. Ward, this time wrapped in holly and (mostly) good cheer. While some covers feel dreary — ”Silver Bells” is less tinkly than dirgelike — Deschanel’s unfussy voice puts a charming spin on yuletide chestnuts ”Blue Christmas” and ”Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” And their take on the Beach Boys’ ”Christmas Day,” with its gingerbread-spicy surf licks, is sweet enough to cure an eggnog hangover.
I know what you’re thinking: 'Seriously? A Christmas album? It’s bloody November. Believe me, I was thinking something very similar when A Very She & Him Christmas arrived in my inbox. Most towns haven’t even had an actor from Coronation Street turn on their Christmas lights yet, and here we have Hollywood’s default Manic Pixie Dream Girl and some sub-Will Oldham folk singer milking the ultimate cash cow that is December 25th.
Blame it on the non-stop Christmas-song radio in every retail store you walk into post-Thanksgiving, or blame it on the fantastically repetitious renditions of songs you’ve heard a million times by musicians you’ve stopped caring about, but Christmas music stopped garnering excitement for most of us quite a few years ago. You could also blame it on the cynicism of a Jewish kid who spent most of his Christmas’ alone with a box of chicken lo mein, an egg roll, and 12 reruns of A Christmas Story. But never mind all that: whether you’re sick of it or not, A Very She & Him Christmas is plain beautiful.
Drawing inspiration, both musically and artistically, from classic holiday offerings from the likes of the Carpenters, the Beach Boys, and Vince Guaraldi, M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel's third outing under the She & Him moniker finds the impossibly quirky duo tackling its first collection of Christmas music. A Very She & Him Christmas is all about the kitsch, from the retro packaging complete with a hyper-stylized photo shot by photographer Autumn De Wilde and liner notes in the form of a signed Christmas card, to the swingin’ choices, many of which are culled from the aforementioned Carpenters/Beach Boys outings.
Look away, all those who would claim to loathe Zooey Deschanel, for her cultural saturation point is nigh. Even now the fates have begun chiseling her porcelain visage onto the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Mount Rushmore (preferably capturing the bewildered look she gave Billy Crudup at the end of Almost Famous), honoring her decade-long career as Twee Personified. Starlet of successful indie flicks and failed blockbusters (Hitchhiker's Guide is underrated), elegant shiller of cotton, remarkably infuriating Top Chef cameo veteran, and faithful companion to what passes in 2011 for a rock star, she now brings us The New Girl, a ludicrous Fox sitcom that is, at the very least, less wantonly shat upon than Whitney.
When you’re making a Christmas record or film, the only way is excess. Zooey Deschanel, star of the deliciously ridiculous Elf, should know this. Heck, in that movie, her character learns that singing is the ultimate way to spread seasonal joy. Standing in a frosty street, she starts a reedy rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and everyone else gradually starts joining in.
Keeping in the line with their first two albums of utterly non-offensive twee-pop, M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel have turned in an album of utterly non-offensive Christmas music. There is really no way to feel particularly positive or negative towards She & Him’s take on the standards of A Very She and Him Christmas.
Whatever other accusations you may wish to throw her way, you could never complain that Zooey Deschanel wilfully confounds her audience's expectations by playing against type. The critics may have tired of the on-screen persona characterised by one of their number as Manic Pixie Dream Girl ("adorkable or tweepulsive?" pondered Vanity Fair of her latest vehicle, the sitcom New Girl; the Onion simply retitled the show Zooey Deschanel's Nerd Glasses and Quirky Sense of Humour Render Her Undateable), but on she doggedly ploughs, or rather skips. Over on the website she co-founded, hellogiggles.
Too often holiday music is about comfort: familiar melodies, familiar sentiments, familiar styles. And for some that may well be enough: never underestimate the power of the reliable. But so much great music comes from artists who understand that the holiday season is just another topic — it can inspire reverence and jubilation, of course, but also self-doubt, skepticism, comedy, fear, resentment and so much more.
Embrace your inner Christmas spirit and you’ll find much to enjoy here. James Skinner 2011 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.