She & Him
A Very She & Him Christmas
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. Honest-to-god folk in the streets! Cute lisping children! Friendly neighbourhood drunks! Hackish capitalists in the board room on Christmas Eve! Their shared song powers Will Ferrell’s sleigh to the limit of its Clausometer, and everyone lives happily ever after (at least until New Year). So considering that on “Christmas Day” (originally by The Beach Boys)—only the second song on She & Him’s festive covers record—Zooey Deschanel sings “I’ll never outgrow the thrill of Christmas day” with all the enthusiasm of someone booking their next gynecological examination, you have to wonder quite what changed.
That’s not to say that A Very She & Him Christmas is entirely joyless. With the majority of songs comprising just Deschanel’s brandy-and-butter thick vocal and M. Ward’s lightly shuffling West Coast guitar, the pair channel the perennially festive hum of recent jangly indie pop and give it purpose. “Christmas Day” itself has a lush pastoral feel reminiscent of The Carpenters’ seasonal efforts, and on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Ward’s guitar lingers poignantly on notes like a snowflake melting on your nose. It’s when Ward and Deschanel sing together atop beds of Spector-ish, old Hollywood vocal hum that they truly deliver on Christmas’ lush promise, as on a welcome revival of NRBQ’s “Christmas Wish,” a perfect soundtrack to overindulging on gingerbread lattes.
However, A Very She & Him Christmas’ main fault is that it can so easily fade into the background as the season never would, no matter how hard one might try and avoid it. In an apparent attempt to make a sophisticated, classic listen, its constant production sparseness becomes drab, and the lack of charm in Deschanel’s lonesome tones is a tad party-pooping—and surprisingly, when she tries to liven things up as on the hiccupy “Sleigh Ride” and decidedly unromantic duet, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” she sounds uncharacteristically awkward. While it’s to their credit that they apply the sleigh bells with restraint (they only crop up once), a little variety wouldn’t go amiss to enliven somewhat sluggish pacing. Just where they should be wielding it unabashedly, She & Him has mislaid their brassy whimsy. Here’s hoping Santa leaves a little in their stockings this holiday season. (www.sheandhim.com)
Author rating: 5/10
Average reader rating: 6/10