Thursday, November 18, 2021

Indie-folk duo She & Him re-release their infamous festive album, ‘A Very She & Him Christmas’

Every year around mid-November there comes a realisation that the Christmas season is just around the corner. Spooky season is replaced by Christmas markets and glistening ornaments, whilst the chilly weather drives one further indoors.

It is here, in our family living rooms, where the real magic of Christmas takes place; the magic of coming together and sharing joyous moments during the dark winter nights… and what better way to celebrate than with She & Him’s classic festive album. 

Ten years ago, indie-folk duo She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) released their Christmas album ‘A Very She & Him Christmas’and their quirkiness and unabashed charm won over the hearts of many indie-kids… Their secret? The personable and quaint feel of their music, recorded with such close attention to Deschanel’s vocals that one can hear her tiny inhales. On the whole, stripped back and wary of commercial sonic elements, theirs is the sound of chamber music that evokes the cosiness of a living room, effortlessly conveying the communal spirit of Christmas.


Kicking off with the ‘The Christmas Waltz’, our Christmas journey commences with the tentative promise of Deschanel’s ghostly vocals. Accompanied by the simple strumming of an acoustic guitar, the track gets an injection of warmth from the piano which joins half way through. This is a whispering promise of Christmas, rather than the blaring announcement that is Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas is You’, and ultimately, it is the kind of sound that She & Him excel at – a folky invocation of mood and atmosphere that envelops the listener like a blanket. ‘Silver Bells’ is another track that achieves a similar effect, stripping back the sound to the simple tinkle of the ukulele and focusing on Deschanel’s voice. Charming and quirky like her on-screen characters, this track is an unassuming stand out of this album, delivering the Christmas comfort with quiet assurance. 


The magic of She & Him lies in their singular ability to capture the spirit of the past, while simultaneously giving it a modern spin. Thus, this album pays homage to The Beach Boys with two Brian Wilson covers – ‘Christmas Day’ and ‘Little Saint Nick’ – both of which are instantly recognisable without sounding too much like a pastiche. Teeming with surfy guitars, lush harmonies, echoing percussion and a palpably sunny feel, these songs are the embodiment of a Californian Christmas – laid back and languorous. Similarly, the duo’s take on ‘Blue Christmas’ is a direct reference to Elvis Presley’s famous cover, with Deschanel boldly mirroring The King’s signature drawl. This lower register vocal is a welcome change, adding dynamism to Deschanel’s range.


Another strength of this album lies in a number of successful takes on ultra-popular Christmas songs – a feat that ought to be commended for its boldness. It’s hard to offer a new take on an already beloved classic, especially if it already possesses a number of well-known covers but She & Him prove that they have what it takes to bring back the magic. Their take on ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’  incorporates a number of dynamic elements such as the gospel-style organ and the vivacious strumming of the electric guitar, diluting the pathos of the original song and bringing in a sense of modernity. Meanwhile, the notoriously problematic ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ reverses the singing parts, and the pronounced girlishness of Deschanel’s vocals helps bring out the campy fun of the song.  


On the other hand, the covers which don’t work so well suffer from the slightly excessive zeal for reinvention. The original military provenance of ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ jars with the sleigh bells and lush Spanish guitar of the She & Him reworking, losing out on the melancholy edge that is the source of its complexity. Conversely, ‘Rocking Around the Christmas Tree’ falls flat on its face due to an excessive adherence to the energy of the beloved Kim Wilde and Mel Smith version. While trying to embody the resonance of Wilde’s rendition, Deschanel seems to lose her sense of self, cutting off her belting crescendo just a bit prematurely in order to revert to her signature girlishness. On the whole, this cover fails to live up to the raucousness that is required of it, leading the duo to overcompensate on the chaotic ‘Sleigh Ride’. Lead by surfy guitars that seem to be on the brink of slipping into Dick Dale’s ‘Misirlou’ and punctuating percussion, ‘Sleigh Ride’ more accurately embodies Christmas panic than Christmas cheer, evoking the feeling of last-minute shopping with its slightly out of sync rhythm. 


‘A Very She & Him Christmas’ ends on a quieter note that circles back to the album’s beginning. ‘The Christmas Song’ is a stripped back affair, allowing Deschanel’s voice to come to the forefront. It is the sound of comfort; lulling and sweetly soporific like a warm glass of mulled wine. A fitting end to an overall pleasing album, it leaves one with a quiet sense of peace, perhaps even softly dozing on the sofa. 


Liza Kupreeva 


Image: ‘A Very She & Him Christmas’ She & Him Official Album Cover

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