by ALEX NAGORSKI
So here’s the thing.
Christmas is easily my favorite holiday. There’s nothing that gives me a greater sense of warmth and joy than walking along Fifth Avenue and being mesmerized by the stories the window displays at Saks and Bergdorf. When I was little, I always insisted on trying to count the lights on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and taking pictures with the FAO Schwarz employees dressed as Nutcrackers. Trust me, they loved it.
However, when it comes to holiday music, I usually want to Van Gogh my ears off. There’s really only so much “cheer” you can get from Julie Andrews narrating the birth of Jesus before you want to burn down the manger, you know?
Then came along Zooey Deschanel. Cute, quirky, perfect little Zooey Deschanel. Just cozily sitting there on the cover of her band She & Him’s new Christmas album, gazing somewhere to the left with her Powerpuff Girls eyes open wide enough to seem like she was watching old Claus make his way down her chimney. “Goddamnit,” I thought to myself the moment I saw the image. “She’s going to exorcise the Grinch right out of me.”
And I was right. You literally need to be the world’s most soulless human being to put on A Very She & Him Christmas and not have it immediately melt your heart. I guarantee that if someone had just played one track off the record for Ebenezer Scrooge, he could have bypassed that whole time-traveling ghost fiasco.
From the moment the album kicks off with Zooey’s illustrious vocals singing about “frosted window panes” in “The Christmas Waltz,” a glow is ignited warm enough to feel like you’re sipping hot chocolate by a burning Yule log in a Zales commercial.
A Very She & Him Christmas is comprised of 12 Christmas standards. And while most Christmas albums are filled with songs with countless references to religion, this record is (thank god!) made up entirely of holiday songs sans any shout outs to Bethlehem or the big J.
Instrumentally, the album uses little more than a ukulele. The result is a refreshingly organic take on music that has been recorded and re-recorded by countless artists for decades. Yet somehow, Deschanel and Ward have crafted a unique spin on these classic songs while simultaneously injecting them with that vintage flair that makes them so familiar.
Not since Judy Garland debuted it in Meet Me In St. Louis has “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” sounded so sweet and honest. Deschanel proves that the song doesn’t need to be “decorated” with riffs every two seconds to showcase the singer’s vocal strength (sit down, Christina Aguilera). By stripping it back to basics, She & Him have returned the tenderness that has been lacking from contemporary interpretations of the song.
Most people discovered Zooey’s enchanting voice when she crooned “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the film Elf. On A Very She & Him Christmas, she revisits the song – except she switches verses and takes over the male part while Ward sings the female’s. The most up-tempo track on the album, this twist on the classic song had me hankering for Zooey to drug my eggnog and take advantage of me so badly.
The tranquil quality of tracks like “Silver Bells,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “The Christmas Song” provide for a soothing soundtrack to enjoy while quietly cuddled up under a warm blanket. But if that’s not really your thing and you’d rather try to score under the mistletoe at your neighbor’s ugly Christmas sweater themed party, crank up the more upbeat cuts like “Sleigh Ride,” “Little Saint Nick” and “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” and your bells will be jinglin’ in no time.
There’s really no word that describes A Very She & Him Christmas better than “snuggly.” Listening to the record is like being given a Golden Labrador puppy on Christmas morning that you name Kisses because he can’t stop crawling all over and licking you. It releases the same endorphins you would get as a kid when you realized that the cookies you left out for Santa on Christmas Eve were gone in the morning. It’s just the perfect holiday treat from start to finish.
While it may only be the beginning of November, Deschanel and Ward have released an instant classic that has me counting down until Christmas with the same giddy gingerbread glee I haven’t felt since I was a child.
A Very She & Him Christmas was released on October 24. (iTunes)